I am prepared to commit Strokes heresy: this is The Strokes’ best album. Somewhere out there a Strokes purist whose heart lives and dies by the generally assumed greatness of “Is This It?” just died. I did a little homework and it appears that “Is This It?” registered a super high 90 of 100 on Metacritic. This album registered a 71. But I guess that’s why I get to write my own reviews right? I liked “Is This It?”. I liked “Last Nite”, the most famous song The Strokes ever put out. But as years go by I certainly don’t give the album a lot of attention. Same goes for the not-quite-as-appreciated “Room on Fire” and “First Impression of Earth”.
I bought this album with a little bit of faith, having heard the fantastic opening track “Machu Picchu” online. I have, since that point, decided that, 4.5 months into year, “Machu Picchu” is the year’s best song so far. And it doesn’t stop there, as “Machu Picchu” gives way to “Under Cover of Darkness”, which immediately gives the album back to back stellar tracks. I’m always aware of the dangers of judging a frontloaded album, but by the time you hear the guitar hook on “Two Kinds of Happiness”, the gritty “You’re So Right”, and the catchy “Taken for a Fool” you’re five songs deep into enough good songs to fill up most bands’ entire albums.
There probably is no better example of the transformation of “Is This It?” era strokes to “Angles” era Strokes, where the synths work as the primary drivers and Julian Casablancas’ voice soars rather than growls. I imagine a diehard Strokes fan would have a problem this. And apparently I’m not a diehard Strokes fan. Old school fans may have to take solace in also-awesome tracks like “Gratisfaction”.
Words like “transformation” and “growth” can be hard to peg. If you read my Cold War Kids from yesterday I spoke negatively of their so-called growth because their transition moved away from what made them special towards what made them just one of many. The Strokes certainly had a distinct style when they burst onto the scene, but the difference here is that these changes do not once sacrifice great sounds or guitar hooks. I might be a Strokes heretic, but to me this just sounds like an even better version of an already good band. Thus, as we sit here at the one-third juncture of the year, The Stokes can be proud to own the year’s best track and best album. We can hope that it gets bested as I will never complain about getting more good music, but for now they’ve set the bar high.