Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
The Strokes: First Impressions of Earth
First Impressions of Earth finds the Strokes moving even further
away from the short, punchy, carelessly sloppy sounds of their debut
It. The band's sophomore release,
Room On Fire, smoothed some of those rough edges but retained the band's
gift for economy and appealingly angular hooks. Producer Gordon Raphael (who
assists on three tracks here) has been supplanted by the considerably more
pop-oriented David Kahne (The Bangles, Sugar Ray, Sublime), resulting in an
even more polished sound with a considerably more expansive tonal palette.
Whatever one's opinion of the group when it kicked its way into the cultural
consciousness in 2001, it's refreshing to hear a band actively working to
expand its sound -- especially a band primarily known (fairly or not) for
its 1970s-influencd, too-cool-to-care vibe. Guitarists Nick Valensi and
Albert Hammond, Jr. have never sounded better, and there's a noticeably
tighter interplay between the rhythm section of bassist Nikolai Fraiture and
drummer Fabrizio Moretti. Singer Julian Casablancas even attempts to broaden
his limited vocal horizons.
So what's not to like? Well, for one thing, the bloat of too much filler
padding the record to nearly double that of either of the first two Strokes
records. More importantly, First Impressions never settles on a
consistent vibe. The chugging "Juicebox" recreates Henry Mancini's "Peter
Gunn" theme. "Razorblade" has a multi-guitar opener worthy of the Marshall
Tucker Band. The oddball "Ask Me Anything" overdoses on Mellotron. And
there's a very un-Strokes-like prog breakout in the middle of "Vision of
Division." It's as if the Strokes are determined to prove they have the
chops to play more than disaffected NYC garage-pop.
And perhaps they do. But Casablancas' lyrical observations simply
don't translate as well when scattered across such a diverse array of
styles. No matter how impressive the production, there's no helping
insights like this one from "Fear of Sleep": "I was hiding from the
world / I was a squirrel / But you chopped down my tree to get my fur."
In fact, First Impressions seems to suggest that for the Strokes,
growth also means growing apart. It's difficult to listen to the album
without coming away with the impression that it should really be two
different records. Casablancas' disaffected monotone increasingly seems
to belong on a different record from the assured sounds of a band slowly
feeling its way out of its pigeonhole. Dare we say it? Perhaps Julian
needs a new band and the Strokes need a new singer. Each half has its
strengths (there is a certain charm to Casablancas' sleepy-lidded
delivery), but the whole feels like the sum of two progressively divergent parts.
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