Truly amazing that this bratty bunch of New York scenesters was able to foresee the future and aptly title its debut. All the hype, all the rumors, the waiting... then a paltry 36 minutes later you ask, "Is this it?" To add to the disappointment, the Helmut Newton-esque album cover adorning the British release was changed to suit the mores of puritan American consumerism. Give us a break -- if we're getting an album that doesn't match its hype, at least slap some great art on it. It helps us overlook the fact that we've been hornswoggled.
It never ceases to amaze that the most ordinary band can emerge out of New York City and immediately the world is expected to be mesmerized by its glory. The Strokes are good, but let's be honest, they are what they are: a thrift-shop gang of guys who barely know how to play, yet get away with it by keeping their songs simple and entertaining. The band follows the manuals of hipness on sale at any Urban Outfitters -- particularly the chapters on bands to ape in order to be cool. Hence every damn song sounds like Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. It is also too bad that roughly half of the album was already released on their two singles, which included versions of the songs that are superior to those here. (Another song, "NYC Cops," was pulled from Is This It after the September 11 attacks.)
No, contrary to the ink spilled about the Strokes, Is This It is not one of the best debuts in the last 20 years. It is a good record. It is loads of fun. But it certainly will not go down in rock history as one of the greatest albums ever, nor even as one of the great debuts. Perhaps someday the band will learn to play more than just twangy staccato rhythms with a drab, stifled vocal droning over the top. Until then, go to your local boozer and see your neighborhood Strokes anytime you want; there are plenty of half-assed brats out there who think they have a world-class band.
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Had the Strokes never been lucky enough to get a helping hand from Rough Trade and endless hype from the British music press, they would be just another band on the American indie crap heap. As it stands now, they're massively adored in England and have begun to dent the American consciousness. Major-label deal now in hand, they will surely be dropped for not shifting enough units and by next spring will be considered a write-off for RCA records. Pity.