NYC's The Strokes are a band who were supposed to reinvent rock n' roll with their quirky, tongue-in-cheek, nonchalant approach to music, and with the practically overnight success of their first record Is This It, they almost did. However, on their sophomore effort Room on Fire, the Strokes were accused of making Is This It part II. It was now time for reinvention with lucky number three.
First Impressions of Earth is the Strokes latest effort, and it strives to break out of the stereotypical mold they've created for themselves. Recording sessions with mastermind Nigel Godrich of Radiohead fame started strong but quickly came to a premature close, leaving the Strokes to revert back to Is This It's Gordon Raphael to finish the album. Something must have been lost in translation however, as this album sees the Strokes trying almost too hard to lose the sophomore slump curse, and comes off a little flat. Singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas sounds lost on some tracks, like he doesn't quite know how or where to take the producer's direction. 'Vision of Division' is a sour example of this. 'Ask Me Anything' is a harsh foreshadowing of reality in the line "I've got nothing to say" which Casablancas repeats over and over again. Then there's the classic and profound "Don't be a coconut/ God is trying to talk to you." Huh? Perhaps what God is trying to say is quit with the nonsensical BS and write something interesting. Oh kidding! We all love the Strokes, right?
Not all tracks are lost however, as the opener 'You Only Live Once' lives up to anything on Is This It or Room on Fire, and the dynamic nature of 'Razorblade' could arguably be the best example of where the Strokes were trying to take this album with its contagious melody and hum-able lyrics. 'On the Other Side' and 'Electricityscape' are also great showcase tracks with some impressive guitar work layered throughout.
So where do the Strokes go from here? Let's hope with one hugely successful album, one quick and loud bang and one fairly unimpressive splat, the Strokes realize the downward spiral they could be racing down, and do something to remedy it.
Why make another album? The Strokes are all about rock n' roll, and at their best, they do a damn fine job of it (Heck, even at their worst they are light years ahead of some). One mediocre album (and some will undoubtedly and heartily disagree with the word mediocre), doesn't ruin a career…necessarily. It's how you pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, and push forward…or not, that determines if you fail.
How will the Strokes push forward? Same as they always have, I guess. However, barring the success of First Impressions of Earth, which at this early juncture doesn't look especially hopeful, I think, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel in which some bands live or die by, the Strokes should just find their flow and stick to it, using subtle production changes, arrangements, and wizardry that they are familiar with and that only the best producers would notice, and not worry so much about what others think of them…including me!