Why do people "hate on" The Strokes? Is it because they're rich prep school kids who had generated more buzz for a debut EP than most bands ever receive in their entire careers? Is it because they embody the Brooklyn hipster elitist persona that the rest of the country barely even understands, much less cares to hear about? Well forget about all that shit. Who cares who they are, what they look like, how many famous people the hang out with, how wasted they get or how many times they hit on your girlfriend. Back in the day, The Strokes gave a breath of fresh air to New York City and the music world in general, restoring the beauty, simplicity and passion of garage rock to a music industry hung up on rap/rock, Nu Metal and barely legal teen pop sex kittens. The Strokes saved us from Limp Bizkit, so I will always hold a special place in my heart for them. Now, how does their new album, First Impressions Of Earth, stack up against Is This It? and Room On Fire? That's the big question. For starters, Is This It? was a masterpiece of seemingly unintentional genius. It captured a moment in time and yet, is timeless. I will play it for my teenage son (assuming I have a kid one day) and I have no doubt he will identify with it the same way The Clash's London Calling or The Velvet Underground & Nico and Violent Femmes' self-titled debuts resonated with me as a teenager. Impressive company, I know. So I'd rather not compare this record with that, but Room On Fire, that's a different story. First Impressions is the record I hoped Room On Fire would be. It takes risks. It's dynamic. Room On Fire was a safe record for The Strokes to make. It sounded like The Strokes everyone knew and loved (or loved to hate) and spawned an awesome first single, "Reptilia", as well as a host of quality "Strokes" tunes that their fans were sure to love.
First Impressions is a different story. While there are, of course, elements of The Strokes we know and love, they venture into areas previously unexplored by the band. This is never more evident than on the first single, "Juicebox". Beginning with a "Spy Hunter"-esque bass intro, the song bursts into a '70s rock & roll explosion of wailing guitars and crunchy power chords with Julian Casablancas' angry, raunchy vocals providing the armor piercing shrapnel. "Ize Of The World" is another track that shows off Casablancas' vocal prowess. His talent for melody and phrasing was never a question, but in the bridge of "Ize", Julian's vocals mimic the lead guitar as it climbs higher and higher, stretching his voice to the limits and hitting notes he never came close to reaching on the band's previous two releases. The guitarists have taken their shit to the next level as well, as is evident in "Vision Of Division". The short choppy guitar riffs of previous releases are supplemented with full-on wailing licks and uber fast Arabian-sounding solos that would impress even the likes of Steve Vai. Other tracks, like the album opener, "You Only Live Once", "Heart In A Cage" and "Electricityscape" all hit the bulls eye, but there are a few sleepers as well.
"Ask Me Anything", with it's bare bones keyboard accompaniment, is a bit of a let down. Julian's chorus repeats "I've got nothing to say, I've got nothing to say", and while the song overall is a departure for the Strokes, it falls short of some of the other stand out tracks on the album. On "On The Other Side", Casablancas laments about death and how no one will be waiting for him when he passes, saying, "I hate them all/I hate them all/I hate myself for hating them/so I'll drink some more/I'll love them all/I'll drink even more/I'll hate them even more than I did before", at times sounding like a drunken, bloated Jim Morrison barely able to hold it together. But through it all, Julian does hold it together and the overwhelming majority of songs on First Impressions Of Earth show a band successfully taking steps away from the "garage rock" pigeonhole and coming of age along with the fan base who propelled them to success in the first place.