First Impressions Of Earth
REVIEW BY: Shane M. Liebler
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/07/2006
In 2001, the Strokes were it. Armed with indie cred from a handful of singles that went gangbusters in the U.K., the scenester approval of their native New York City and a hungry audience of college-aged suburbanites raised on a strict diet of faux R&B and Nirvana knock-offs, they were poised to create a new monotony for "modern rock" radio.
The hit B-side "NYC Cops" was deemed inappropriate for a post-9/11 stateside release of Is This It, which featured a colorful Magellan-esque map of the new world, as opposed the black and white seduction of the U.K. album art.
Even without the bare ass and velvet glove featured on the original cover, the Strokes were legend before critics poured on kudos by the pageful -- Julian Casablancas, the fashionably mysterious lead singer; Nick Valensi, Backstreet-worthy rhythm guitarist; the unorthodox windmill-strumming technique of fro-wearer Albert Hammond Jr.; a drummer named Fab; and the quiet demeanor, but steady bass of Nikolai. So, why blow it with a mundane, intensity-lacking third LP?
Now in their fifth year of success, The Strokes seem to be missing the well-structured song craft of Room On Fire and primal ferocity of Is This It. It's not really surprising to those who've witnessed the live show, or lack thereof, where Casablancas is known to perch on an amp and mumble for 45 minutes while the rest of the band -- especially Nikolai -- seem equally sleepy.
First Impressions storms out the gate with the 80s-style stutter of "You Only Live Once" and the restless "Juicebox," which features a Jim Morrison-tinted "Why don't you come over here / We've got a city to love" chorus. "Heart In A Cage" successfully finishes off a three-song recap of the first two records, but then they head into aimless songstreams that waterlog previous highlights with not-quite-there crescendos and weak lyrics.
Casablancas is lacking the twenty-something sage of "And now my fears / They come to me in threes" from "Someday" or the roar of Room On Fire opener "Whatever Ever Happened?" Maybe the band may is just missing the muse of producer Gordon Raphael, who gave the first two Strokes chapters their trademark urgency but only helms three throwaway tracks here.
The Strokes as a band are not dead, but the so-called garage revival they helped usher in is over. The band's legions of wannabes have given fans of the Nuggets genre years of enjoyment and a measuring stick to rate "rock radio" with. Perhaps now, the band should maintain the barstool slump and leather-clad swagger that initiated the allure and let their disciples do the experimenting.
But, experimenting may be saying too much of the hit-and-miss First Impressions, which merely struggles to stick with the band's enjoyable formula. At least a few cuts, like the unfortunately named "Ize Of The World" and "Vision Of Division" will make the "best of" roster when the time comes.
I'll forever remember the mid-youth giddiness that surrounded my first impressions of The Strokes, but in terms of what I expect from them in 2006, this ain't it.