Albums of the Decade #9: Is This It?

What’s an artist to do when he / she has the terrible misfortune of producing their masterpiece on the first try? Ask M. Night Shyamalan. (The Happening, anyone?) Or the Counting Crows, who will never surpass their brilliant 1994 debut August and Everything After. Or ask The Strokes.

The Strokes' 2001 release "Is This It?"

In 2001, this NYC-based quintet exploded onto the popular music scene in both the United States and the United Kingdom as harbingers of a new era of garage-punk. Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, SPIN…all the usual suspects jumped on board to hype the Strokes as “the next big thing”. I even remember a Beatles comparison or two being thrown around. But the hype around this record undermined the fact that Is This It? is garage rock at its finest: energetic, minimalist, effortless, concise (the whole affair clocks in at a hair over half an hour.) This tightly wound piece of no-frills energy simply works on every level. Julian Casablancas projects equal parts machismo and existential indifference through a garbled amalgam of distortion and feedback. Nick Valensi’s guitar work is brilliant; see “The Modern Age” for Exhibit A. But as I listened back over the album recently, I was surprised at how exceptional the drum work is, too. The true power of this record is found in the fact that several of these songs — notably “Someday”, “Last Nite”, and “The Modern Age” — sound as fresh and energetic today as they did when I first heard them eight years ago. Its a shame that nothing they’ve produced since has matched the raw energy of Is This It?

Some want to praise this album for its prescient and prophetic qualities. (Released mere weeks after 9/11, Julian Casablancas sings “”Hard times opened their eyes / Saw pain in a new way / high stakes for a few names” on the album’s third song, “Soma”.) Others hail The Strokes for channeling Velvet Underground or reviving ’70s-era punk for a new generation. As for me, Is This It? makes my Albums of the Decade list for one reason: this is really great guitar rock that perfectly captures the attitude of a particular moment in time. Your grandsons won’t understand.

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2 Responses to Albums of the Decade #9: Is This It?

  1. Alain says:

    Personally I think the Strokes album is the best of the whole decade it re-invented indie music on both sides of the atlantic. read my piece on why its the best and vote for it on a poll on my blog http://alaintolhurst.wordpress.com/2009/11/30/is-this-it/

  2. Jason says:

    Alain,
    Thanks for the comment. It’s amazing how fresh this album sounds nearly 10 years later. I’m looking forward to hearing what Julian and the boys put out in ’10.

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