Monday, April 20, 2009

#5 Album of the Decade- Is This It


#5- The Strokes- Is This It (2001)

The Strokes- "The Modern Age"

In a recent interview on Chicago's Sound Opinions podcast, Blitzen Trapper frontman Eric Earley said the following about the roots of his music:

"I think any musician needs to be aware of the history of what he's doing...It's just sort of this continuum, you know?...I think rock music is traveling along the same cycles any artistic medium travels...it's all just a big cycle, and rock is at the end of this certain cycle or at this point where it's--yeah--no matter what you do now it's going to reference...it's going to be referencing seventy years of music. You can't help that. And there's only so many permutations of rock music that you can do. I think the important thing is to write good songs. And if the songs are honest and mirror your personality and the uniqueness of the individual writing it, then people will enjoy it."

Earley's astute quotation sums up the rigamaroll surrounding the Strokes by the end of 2001. Even the definition of "music fan" has changed since then, but true music fans had a lot to hate at the time. The British press, who had recklessly lauded so many bands before and since, had annointed the boys as the saviors of rock before they had even recorded a song. We all had to read article after article about a garage revival that never arrived in any meaningful movement. And an earlier generation of rock know-it-alls decried the way the Strokes wore their Velvets and Stooges influences on their sleeves. Hell, even musicians hated that the lead guitar part of a huge hit was just a G chord played over and over. People talked. Oh, how they talked. So much so that the 2002 entry of the popular anthology Best Music Writing just reproduced the Strokes thread from ilovemusic.com, and it was easily the most passionate, interesting piece in the whole book.

Superficially, there was a lot to hate, and there still are a lot of haters. At that moment in time, the music, no matter how angular and tight and searing, was inextricable from the hype. I'm convinced that some of the people calling them N*SYNC with Converse never even listened to Is This It, because if they did, they would know that the music holds up. Sure, the band photographed well, but the important thing is to write good songs, so the Strokes are now an important thing.

The thorn in the band's side is that they're derivative, but you could do worse than re-packaging Lou Reed, New York Dolls, and Television. The purists were nervous that...what exactly? High school kids would hear separation in a faithful recording process? That they would succumb to the charms of the over-expressive vocals on songs about drinking and fucking? Thank God I heard them when I did. The Strokes had swagger way before it was the totem of rappers, and Julian Casablancas mixed that jaded posturing with lyrics that are way more earnest than you remember.

From the buoyant bass-line of the eponymous opener through the summery strum of "Someday" to the persistent churn of closer "Take It or Leave It," Is This It is an undeniable joy to listen to. It's cohesive without being repetitive. It's upbeat without being carefree, serious music that doesn't take itself seriously. This is a CD that you could leave on at a party without skipping around (back when people used to do that sort of thing). To be completely honest, I think I've listened to this album more times than any other aughts offering, and that's got to mean something. I think that it means, despite what the haters say, this is going to last.