The Strokes - "Is This It?"
I was wondering if I should even consider mentioning The Strokes in my (too-long-dormant) discussion of the Best Records Of The Decade (TM), and I've decided it's going to be necessary. Whether they make it in to the party remains to be seen, but I liked First Impressions Of Earth much more than I expected to, and besides, the NME list is out today, placing the Strokes at the top.
To shift gears for a minute and get all political, I'm of the opinion that no matter what else Barack Obama has done for the country, he's unified a large part of it. What will happen remains to be seen, but the idea that so many people were so fervent about making the administrative change, that he brought unity to the people, a sense of activism, a push to DO rather than "have done for". People being lazy, after the election, slid back to their old ways, largely, but for a minute there, it was one icon inspiring all of US to make something happen.
The Strokes were the Obama of their day.
I heard from every damn angle about this band when their first EP came out and the press went wild. The banned album covers, the trebly, buzzing sound coming from a dirty guitar through an amp. Touchstones of everything from Television to the Velvet Underground. People were STOKED. And this was a good thing. Sure, it may have ended up being a big ol' disappointment overall, but that garage rock revival had a lot of cool music bubble up to the charts. The Hives? America should be GRATEFUL for that happening after the sugary pop of the late '90s. The Strokes (well, the press surrounding the Strokes) reminded everyone that rock 'n' roll was still there, and in the process, made a really good garage-pop record. "Last Night" still sounds like Tom Petty, riffs are lifted here and there from some of your tamer (but hipper) punk forebears (New York Dolls, I'm looking at you!), but it's a neat little album with a sexy cover and one track that caused some post-9/11 lyrical stink. But it opened the gates. People were trying to market the VINES as a garage band. They were awful! But no matter, it reminded everyone that you can crank up and amp, bang on a riff, and howl out some hip jive and you were a rock and roller.
It's the music that matters, yeah, but there are always certain trappings that influence the tunes, and these boys had it DOWN. Sure, they were rich kids playing punk, but weren't Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine just prep-school runaways? Wasn't Lou Reed just a grumpy English major? Artfully mussed hair and perfect Beatle Boots might not make the album, but they sure help sell it. And sold it was. I had a stick up my ass (based on The Wilco Principle) about being told what I had to like. So I resisted. I knew about the White Stripes already anyway, and that was more my bag. I'd rather listen to the Oblivions or the Gories than something that Spin Magazine told me was "hot". Who cares about all that. It's a good rock and roll record.
Context aside, Is This It? is a really good record, that I heartily enjoyed once I got past my pissy contrarianism. Taken IN context, one of the best records of the decade. Just avoid the one that came after it.