Monday, March 10, 2008

5.) Room On Fire - The Strokes (ST. PATTY'S 2008)

Room on Fire

The Strokes
RCA Records.

SCQ Rating: 82%

Timing is everything, as the popular saying goes, and few bands in recent years can attest to that phrase’s veracity quite like The Strokes. In the grand cosmos of music press buffoonery, the New York quintet has been more highly praised and wrongly done than any other major label act I care to think about. Their 2001 debut, Is This It?, was immediately called a classic, with music mags calling it the best album to come out of New York in twenty years. It wasn’t, and hindsight of this fact caught on so quickly, most magazines could’ve written retractions in their next issue. It was, however, one of the year’s best rock records, and (alongside the White Stripes) ushered in the garage-rock revival, which only made expectations for their return greater. While Room on Fire is probably better than their debut, it failed to satisfy a press machine that two years earlier accredited The Strokes as “Saviours of Rock and Roll”.

While a brief glance at the Billboard 200 at the turn of the millennium will indicate why The Strokes were held in such high regard (Nsync, Jay-Z, and Britney kept the charts knee-deep in pop), The Strokes never wanted the prestige or burden of such a position and Room On Fire is an excellent exhibit of that hesitation. Another half-hour collection of melodic swagger, The Strokes change very little: their rhythm section is still air-tight, their guitar riffs are learnable within ten minutes, and Julian Casablancas is singing through his phone-booth studio microphone again.

If their success had gone to their heads at all, it simply made them more confident as musicians. ‘What Ever Happened’ starts things off with the anthemic proclamation “I want to be forgotten and I don’t want to be reminded”, and it’s about as dramatic a lyric as you’ll find on disc, as if whatever tragedy preceded his mood has predestined the album’s content. Luckily, Casablancas’ plan to forget himself is to go on a bender; Room On Fire is all about nights that won’t end if you hold them long enough and those good people who’ll follow you down for one last drink. The all-or-nothing lyrics “We could go and get 40s/Fuck goin’ to that party/Oh really, your folks are away now?/Alright, let’s go, you convinced me,” fit well with ’12:51’s 80s keyboard, and the overall festive feel to this sophomore effort.

There are some acts you don’t necessarily want to change, either because you recognize their limitations or enjoy what they have to offer. In the case of the Strokes, it’s the latter; their 30 minute records of slick Velvet Underground-influenced rock were effortlessly better than First Impressions of Earth, which almost sounded purposeful. Room On Fire best illustrates any band’s philosophy on living the high life, while leaving the tedious posturing for the magazine cover-shoots.

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