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The Strokes: First Impressions Of Earth

Album Review
First Impressions Of Earth
Rough Trade

2 January, 2006

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Self Fulfilling Blasphemy
The Strokes' latest album weighs the Big New York Hype against enchanting disenchantment...

The Strokes After a while, you have to ask yourself: What could the Strokes possibly be so jaded about?

These five rich kids from Manhattan's upper crust have spent the first years of the millennium as the toast of New York City's reborn hip-music scene. They had the look, the style, and the attitude that are the manifestation of the cooler-than-you rock band. One is even shagging Drew Barrymore. Oh, and they also managed to make a pair of stellar rock albums somewhere in there.

Yet, the Strokes new album, First Impressions Of Earth, is riddled with a disenchantment that singer Julian Casablancas just can't seem to shake. And, it's not just him that's suffering. It's a feeling that you can hear in the rest of the band. It's the sound of the world's coolest band, already too cool to enjoy itself.

Part of the Strokes appeal has always been their ever-suspicious mindset (into which any good New Yorker is bred). It's what made past lines like "alone we stand, together we fall apart" feel as logical as they do tragic. But, after a while, how cynical can a guy be when he and his bandmates are supposedly getting laid every quarter hour?

Apparently, quite cynical.

First Impressions is not a record about decadence. Songs dabble in the introspective ("my feelings are more important than yours"), the spiritual ("don't be a coconut / God is trying to talk to you"), even the historically ironic ("Hostile Indians - We named our summer camp for you"). There are songs on this album with titles like Heart in a Cage, Electricityscape, and Vision of Division. Casablancas, who has gotten married and reportedly quit drinking in the past year, clearly isn't very worried about maintaining his panty-peeling swagger.

This isn't necessarily bad news, for those looking to see more of what the Strokes have been so good at in the past. Musically, the band hasn't changed its sound as much as mirrored it. If 2001's Is This It? and 2003's Room on Fire were twins, First Impressions is their bizzaro-world (remember Superman?) alter-ego. Here, tempo is still king, but now they're not afraid to slow down a tad, take a turn towards darker melodies to match darker lyrics, or even leave out their traditional backbone, Fabrizio Moretti's drums, on a song.

With Is This It?, the Strokes drew a beautiful sketch of their own personal universe, where they never really cared when things let them down. It was fresh, vibrant and irresistible. Room on Fire was in just about every way almost as good as Is This It?, but more a retracing of the first blueprint than a second brilliant work.

Now, with First Impressions of Earth, the band that once held its chin up no matter how many shots to the jaw it had taken has lost its aura of invincibility. All the booze, girls, and general excess in the world couldn't keep the Strokes from admitting that things, sometimes, just aren't fair.

This band was supposed to collapse as the end result of a self-fulfilling prophecy that the hype of being "worlds best band" is impossible to maintain (see: Guns 'n' Roses, Nirvana, Oasis before them). But, something quite different, and quite intriguing, has happened instead. They have seen their peaks and valleys. Now, rather than self-destructing, they've started trying to make sense of it all. It sheds a whole new light on the album's title.

On Ask Me Anything, Casablancas repeats endlessly, "I've got nothing to say." Hardly.

Patrick Allegri

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