Some of the best things about The Strokes you'll only hear on headphones, unless your ear is carefully tuned to arrangements or your stereo costs more than your car... or you know what to listen for. So here's what to listen for: Beneath the scruffy glory of their rock 'n roll first impression lies a very cool counterpoint of guitars playing Irish fiddle tunes! No, really.
If you don't know this band's previous work, you may at least remember the first album cover - a black and white shot of a leather-gloved hand slapping the pale curve of a naked female rump. First Impressions continues in the same indie rock style.
How awfully (or wonderfully) New York. This Venus in Furs glam extends beyond just their art, into their music which references other bands from New York City (where they met while studying what we down South Africa way call postgrad at various exclusive - read expensive - colleges). They're clearly inspired by the likes of The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed And Iggy Pop. With shades of Talking Heads, U2 and even Shane McGowan (Take a listen to 30 seconds of "15 Minutes") surfacing.
Singer Julian Cassablancas is regularly mobbed by every model in the audience. They're trendy in the trendiest towns.
The music? It's mind-blowing at first. The bouncing riffs and frisky fingerwork and Rolling Stones vocals (complete with sexually charged roars) are mixed with drumming that has an almost elementary charm to it on "You Only Live Once". The bass-driven "Juicebox" thrashes, packed with sleazy bass, strobe guitar and celebrity arrogance that celebrates what it hates.
"Heart in a Cage" swipes Iggy Pop's chord structure for "Passenger" and tightens it up and softens it for today. At their best, the acerbic self-awareness of the Strokes' in-crowd lyrics, and ace guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond's buoyant guitar licks paint an exciting, dark city soundscape that's all about that party moment just before that next party moment, when you come crashing down to earth. That downer moment that a song like "On the Other Side" sums up perfectly: "I'm tired of everyone I know / Of everyone on the street and on TV".
The first three to six tracks on this new album are so full of promise that you may find yourself thinking you've found your band of the year very early (First Impressions is rare post-Christmas release) but unfortunately this bunch of poor little rich kids don't quite sustain the fresh standard they set early on.
There are good moments throughout, but it's one of those art-rock albums by bands that turn up in photos with Kate Moss looking sweaty. It's the kind of album that probably would have been miles better if it had been limited in length by the constraints of vinyl. The impressive guitar and nice crunchy production keep going throughout, but the melodies - though still attractive - lack the freshness of the album's beginning.
Like the CD booklet, which is so stuffed with uber-arty pages lacking any information about the album, it's all just a bit long, and a bit much - like an album Lou Reed might have made with U2 circa The Unforgettable Fire.
The Strokes are damn good, but with the current glut of indie rock acts around, we've heard it all before.
- Jean Barker
WHAT OTHER CRITICS SAID
If this undeniably talented band are to repay that initial excitement, their fourth album is going to have to offer a great deal more consistency and invention than on display here.- Jaime Gill for BBC
...the band's failures do, if nothing else, possess a certain schadenfreude, allowing a fascinating glimpse at a band futilely grasping in all directions for something new and meaningful, only to fumble with a half-fragment of unformed idea between its desperate fingers.- Stephen M. Deusner for Pitchfork Media
They're a serious band of dedicated craftsmen, a band that is here to stay. It also proves they could steal your girlfriend without even trying. But you already knew that.- Rob Sheffield for Rolling Stone
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