Monday, October 16, 2006

You Only Live Once

Song: You Only Live Once
Artist: The Strokes
Album: First Impressions of Earth

The Strokes are a good example of how hype can breath life, and then a quick death for the careers of bands, despite how good or bad they are. When their debut “Is This It” came out in 2001 it was hard NOT to know who The Strokes were. They were at the forefront of a supposed New York resurgence in the rock word (did that ever come to fruition?) and were the poster boys for the “new alternative.” The record was good, they were getting great buzz for their live shows, and they were all cute in a semi put-upon hipster way. There was no place to go but down… and this was just their debut album.

Despite getting on the whole pretty positive reviews when it came out, the follow up, 2003’s “Room on Fire” is now considered a big disappointment, a perfect example of that dreaded sophomore slump. The same magazines and websites that had general good things to say about the record at the time of its release backpedaled when the latest record “First Impressions of Earth” came out earlier this year. That “Earth” was the “return to form” after the “disaster” of “Room on Fire.” I for one find this ridiculous.

“Room on Fire” didn’t sell nearly as well “Is This It,” and I believe that is part of the reason for this revisionist history. While music, film, and literature are art, it is the selling of this art that creates “entertainment” which is then barcoded, sold, tracked, and put into charts that tell us just how successful that particular piece of “art” is. Again, ridiculous. For me “Room on Fire,” while basically a re-tread of the debut, was a better album. I listened to it more, liked the songs better… they didn’t re-invent the wheel but if they had, what would people have said then? It probably would have been a lot worse no doubt.

With “First Impressions of Earth,” after that “disastrous” sophomore record, The Strokes do decide to stretch themselves a bit. A little more 80’s new wave sound (Thank you Killers!) Julian’s voice isn’t distorted as much (or should I say that it is just distorted differently?) there are signs everywhere that they didn’t want do the same old thing again. Unfortunately, the rest of the album doesn’t hold up to the spectacular opener “You Only Live Once.” Somehow in trying to please everyone they lost their way and made their first mediocre record. Don’t get me wrong, it is not bad… and holds a few strong songs but in my opinion is the lesser of the three albums.

I’m not sure what is up next for The Strokes. Their albums have now consistently sold less and less (specifically, “Room” sold half of what “Is This It” sold, and “Earth” has sold less than half of that.) Maybe it will take an “O.K. Computer” style record to change their career path. Something that proves they can write more than just catchy garage rock, but they can create an album with a thematic wholeness to it, something that will outlast the hype that made and now has tried to kill them. I think if they keep thinking in the vein of “You Only Live Once,” they might have a chance.


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