Classics In The Making: The Strokes – Is This It

You wish you were as cool as this band.

Ten years ago today (in the UK), The Strokes released their debut album Is This It, an album that many consider to be one of the best rock albums of the past decade.  The album brought back the Rock N Roll sound bands like Television and The Stooges perfected in the seventies and brought it into the new millennium.  For a little bit of time, it seemed that the cool minimalist Rock N Roll Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground helped create was finally in the mainstream and here to stay.  While the fad did not last, this album has aged well and still sounds as cool as it did a decade ago.

When this album was released in the summer of 2001, guitar-rock was at a low point.  MTV was filled with all pop and rap, and all the great grunge bands of the 90s had either broken up or faded away into obscurity.  Stained was the most popular rock band on the radio…it was that bad.  But then here comes this five-piece band of the coolest looking dudes from uptown New York City who worshipped the Velvet Underground and Tom Petty and played fast guitar rock music, all while not giving a fuck.  Is This It was warmly welcomed among critics and fans, and that alone had established the band’s place in history – not necessary because they were talented, but because they were exactly what we needed.

Is This It is very simple: eleven three-minute songs, all fast, all revolving around the guitars, no extra sounds from the studio, minimal effects, and all raw.  No serious life questioned asked here, just songs about partying, girls, and more partying.  Julian Casablancas sounds sleazy but collected – a guy who knows how cool he is.  The band is tight and clam, but they can be ferocious when they need to be (props to Fabrizio Moretti for the excellent drumming).

Even though The Strokes aren’t an indie band, this album became one of the most important albums for a new generation of indie kids.  This band opened the doors for new bands like The Killers and Kings Of Leon to become successful (Kings Of Leon first got attention only because they sounded like a southern version of The Strokes).  Many new bands adopted The Strokes’s look and sound, and soon guitar rock was brought into a new golden age (The Strokes weren’t the only ones blowing up around this time, so were The White Stripes and The Hives).  This album, along with Arcade Fire’s Funeral and Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, helped defined indie music in the 2000s.

Does the album cover not look familiar?  The picture you see above is the original album cover that was released in the UK.  The album cover was changed for the US to seem more “appealing”.  Another thing happened between the UK and the US release of this album – 9/11.  The original album contains “New York City Cops”, and in respects for the city the song was dropped and replaced with “When It Started”.  Understandable, however it’s a shame because it’s the band’s best song, and it sums up the coolness of this band.  Click here to see the song live and you’ll know what I mean.

For how much I love this album, I will say that it is a bit overrated.  This is not the most creative album ever made (the band will tell you that themselves).  The hype surrounding these guys was crazy back in 2001 – they were being called the greatest rock n roll band since The Rolling Stones.  These guys are not the Stones, and Is This It has nothing on Exile On Main Street.  It took me many listens to understand what Casablancas was actually singing about, and there wasn’t much to find.  Many times I have listened to this album and thought, “Is this it?”

But to love this album is to understand what the band was all about.  The who-gives-a-shit attitude was a nice change of pace in 2001 when music fans desperately needed a rock band to love – they sure were not going to find it in Radiohead and Kid A.  Its quality might be put into question, but its impact won’t be.  When we look back on music another decade from now, we’ll probably still be talking about The Strokes and their debut album.

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber

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