• Old 'Stache

Is This Still It? The Strokes a Decade Later

written by: on September 11, 2011

“Really cool, non-mainstream and really popular.”—This is how Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas first described his sleek new garage revival band’s debut album. Built upon their early January 2001 debut EP, The Modern Age, Is This It? meshed the group of urban angst-y youth with raw driven guitar hooks reminiscent of early ’60s garage and protopunk bands like The Velvet Underground, Television, The Stooges and New York Dolls.

Not only influenced by ’60s/’70s rock ‘n’ roll movements, many modern artists paved the way to what we now know as The Strokes. Guitarists Albert Hammond, Jr. and Nick Valensi are noted to have been influenced by artists such as Matthew Sweet, Guided By Voices, John Lennon, The Cars and Blondie.

As we remember the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, we also reflect on a music industry directly affected by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C., that happened on U.S. soil. Is This It? was originally slated for a Sept. 25 release in the U.S. on RCA, but was pushed back to Oct. 9 when New York City postponed the band’s performance at CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival. The group was forced to record a new track for the album (“When It Started”) to replace “New York City Cops,” after the band witnessed a quick and efficient action by the NYC police department following the attacks. The chorus line of “New York City Cops” repeatedly emphasizes displeasure with the NYC Police department ranting “She just can’t stop sayin’/New York City cops/New York City cops/New York City cops/They ain’t too smart.” However, the vinyl release of the record was remained unchanged.

Track listing wasn’t the only problem the band seemed to run into during the production and release of Is This It? The initial cover art featured a photo of a nude woman’s hip and bottom paired with a leather-gloved hand suggestively resting on it. The October American artwork featured a microscopic close up of particle collisions due a band decision and fears of the American conservative retail industry against the controversial nature of the previous July and August versions of the artwork.

Fueled by the same fury that lead to the success of Brit post-punk acts of the ’70s like The Buzzcocks, Wire and Joy Division, The Strokes exploded out of New York and created a pulsing, stomping, renegade, independent sound and became part of the movement that brought back rock ‘n’ roll joining other bands such as The Hives, The White Stripes, The Vines, Kings of Leon and UK acts such as Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, The Libertines and Franz Ferdinand.

Raw energy. No overly-touched or enhanced studio sound. Is this why we love our Strokes so much? Because simplicity may actually be the best route in most forms. This concept molded almost perfectly with Is This It’s melodic pop style with its generally superb rhythm and charisma.

It was 2001. A record was obviously yearning to kick off the decade. Is This It never fell short of its title as an incredible mark for music in 2001 and of the 2000s.

Billboard, CMJ, Entertainment Weekly, NME, Playlouder, Magnet and The New Yorker stacked it on their lists of best records of 2001. Rolling Stone and Pitchfork both ranked it on their lists of top 10 albums of the 2000s. The album generated instant interest and positive reception in Europe entering the UK Albums Chart at number two after selling 48,393 copies in the first two week of sales.

Tracks like “Last Nite,” eerily resembling Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “American Girl,” “The Modern Age,” a thumping, thunderous number railing through continuous polished guitar hooks while Casablancas sings about the weirdness of our own modern age that we live in, and “Someday,” a tune loaded with interlocking guitar lines and complimentary drum beats helped to bring Is This It? to the unarguable masterpiece of modern rock ‘n’ roll as we know it. Something about this album makes you want to hold it up on a pedestal next to your old Singles Going Steady, Transformer and The Stooges records. It’s not too hard to tell what about this album makes someone become an avid Strokes listener, but going on 10 years strong, Casablancas and the gang are still bashing out tunes (i.e. the bands’ most recent release this March, Angles).

As the world came to see, Is This It? challenged the reasons why we appreciate the music and culture we know in this “Modern Age.” Their channeling of the great rock bands and musicians they have been effected by is apparent with every track on the record and the lyrical allure of Casablancas has all but captured the spirit and flame of our culture then and now. There now seems to be an apparent reason why Casablancas belts in the band’s new single “Under Cover of Darkness,” “everybody’s been singing that same song for 10 years.”

The Strokes – Is This It Tracklist:

  1. “Is This It”
  2. “The Modern Age”
  3. “Soma”
  4. “Barely Legal”
  5. “Someday”
  6. “Alone, Together”
  7. “Last Nite”
  8. “Hard to Explain”
  9. “When It Started”
  10. “Trying Your Luck”
  11. “Take It Or Leave It”