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The Strokes fail to display musical growth

Ryan Rafferty | Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Rolling Stone hailed them as “the best young band in the world.” Mojo labeled them, “the hottest rock ‘n’ roll band on the planet,” and these two magazines are not alone. Countless music critics, musicians and passionate music listeners have called The Strokes the saviors of rock music and praised them for the bold and daring sound of their music. The world has been waiting to see if they can, in fact, live up to their namesake with the follow-up to their impressive debut, Is This It, and they do in the most predictable manner: creating a near clone of their debut album.

The Strokes latest album, Room On Fire, is a carbon copy of Is This It. From the slick bass lines, to the simple repetitive droning guitars, right down to the abstract art theme on the cover, this is not a new album, but in essence a continuation of Is This It. While they may have avoided the sophomore slump by simply recreating the masterpiece that was their debut album, it leaves the listener wondering if they can create anything outside of their signature fuzzy garage sound. While the songs on Room on Fire are extremely catchy and fun, they just seem to lose their flair after a few minutes. It seems the band simply yawned out this album.

Famed producer Nigel Godrich was originally slated to produce Room on Fire, and one can only wonder how he would have changed The Strokes’ sound. Instead, the band recruited the very same producer that worked with them on Is This It, and shockingly did not advance their sound at all. That may not necessarily be a bad thing because the songs are amazing. The first single “12:51” is an extremely catchy ditty with a driving bass and drum line accentuated by a simple strummed guitar riff. The song has hints of maturation with an early ’80s Cars-sounding synthesizer guitar riff, but it never seems to move beyond a simple backing riff. “You Talk Way Too Much” is another wonderful song played in the same lazily rushed repetitive style. Guitarist Nick Valensi adds a wonderful atmosphere to the song with his muddy treble guitar, along with Albert Hammond’s delightfully simply-played chorus riffs. “Under Control,” “Reptilia” and “I Can’t Win” are some other fantastic catchy songs, but they become boring after several listens. These songs are wonderfully constructed and played, but they do not seem original.

This is a consistent theme on Room On Fire. Singer Julian Casablancas continues his biting, hazy singing style with lyrics that could have easily been pulled from The Strokes’ debut. His voice hasn’t grown at all and he hasn’t expanded his lyrical theme. Overall the lyrics are very bland and uninteresting.

There are hints of maturation and musical growth throughout the album, but The Strokes never seem to bite on these hooks they’ve created and expand their sound. As a result the listener feels trapped in a room with one speaker blaring the same song over and over again. There are great songs on this album, but the monotony of Room On Fire is impossible to ignore. Many critics argue that this was the best route for The Strokes to go, to create a Siamese twin of Is This It, and it may well have been. Room On Fire will be a successful album for the band. It does have some magnificently catchy songs and guitar riffs, but it will be easily forgotten because of its glaring similarity to their debut. This formula will work for The Strokes for now, but at some point their sound must mature and change or they run the risk of becoming a boring, unchanging, predictable pop band. Overall Room On Fire is a decent album and is worth a few listens. In all actuality The Strokes do live up to their title, “best young rock band on the planet,” but they cannot keep the same sound forever. The Strokes may have sparkled on their debut album, but they begin to lose their luster on Room On Fire.

Contact Ryan Rafferty at [email protected]