The Strokes Vinyl, CD & tapes by The Strokes at Norman Records
The fact that two members of possibly the most potent practitioners of the new wave of garage rock met at boarding school says a lot about the Strokes. For some they were a breath of fresh air with their deliberately lo-fi tunes and cool New Yoik attitude. For others they were just posh boy chancers who made one great era-defining album ahead of a host of slowly diminishing returns. Yet the Strokes have survived. They weathered the initial hype, the subsequent backlash and slowly made five albums over the course of their near twenty year history all pretty much on their own terms.
They exploded onto the scene in early 2001 and were straight away music press favourites, hyped to the hilt before they had barely released a record. Hopes were high for hilariously named debut Is This It and it didn’t disappoint. The album took elements of the Velvet Underground, Guided By Voices and the Modern Lovers swirling the elements together with provocative lyrics delivered in a detached distorted croon by singer Julian Casablancas. In a moment of Spinal Tap-eque madness the sleeve featuring a bottom was replaced for US pressings of the album (not with a none-more-black sleeve). The album was well received and has since been placed ludicrously high in several Best Albums Ever type polls.
Their second album Room On Fire was unleashed in 2003 and seemed to suffer somewhat from the reviled second album syndrome. In reality it was more a case of the band making good records that didn’t quite have the impact of their debut. They toyed with a more new wave sound taking influence from the likes of the Cars and harked back somewhat to the skinny tie revolution of 1979. It was though a worthy follow up and the Strokes only started to hit problems on third album First Impressions of Planet Earth which received, shall we say, ‘mixed’ reviews with only a handful of tracks living up to past glories. It seemed like a good time for the band to take a break and they duly went on hiatus for two years to try to work out what it was that made them good in the first place.
They subsequently got in a bit of a pickle with their fourth album Angles using a variety of producers to get the sound they were after. However, the gestation period and a more collaborative way of working lead to a much better final product which finally saw the band take some steps away from their signature sound. However there was a feeling that the band were in a kind of terminal decline and follow up Comedown Machine was marred by a pre-release interview with bassist Nikolai Fraiture where he described the recording process as "awful, absolutely awful". Again the band favoured a more collaborative approach with all members contributing songwriting and by this point the Strokes longevity and refusal to rest on the laurels of their early success was starting to win them a kind of begrudging acclaim. They wrestled with several different styles on this LP and it was praised for its mixtape-like qualities.
Since then they’ve done very little. Julian Casablancas and especially guitarist Albert Hammond Jr have had fruitful solo careers away from the parent band but the Strokes are still going. They always have that debut album to fall back on but so far they’ve resisted the urge to turn into a nostalgia act and continue to find new ways to present their music.