PIONEERS of the Garage Rock Revival, The Strokes broke out of the New York City underground scene with their critically acclaimed debut Is This It in 2001. The album drew worldwide attention to the band, their music defining a generation of listeners. But where does a band go from there? The cliché of the ‘difficult second album’ was extremely applicable to a band with such influence as The Strokes. How were they meant to follow an album that, just two years after its release, was named the 199th best album of all time by Rolling Stone magazine?
The answer turned out to be Room On Fire. Seemingly abandoning their harsher, DIY sound, The Strokes moved to one that was smoother, more produced. Despite this, the album lacked the sing-a-long choruses of ‘New York City Cops’ and ‘Someday’ even if with ‘Reptillia’ and ‘The End Has No End’ it had some radio-friendly hits. The album itself still feels like it sits somewhat uncomfortably in The Strokes canon. Not released soon enough after Is This It to ride off its success, it wasn’t left long enough to build up a massive hype. As Nick Valensi stated: ‘the album would have ended up a lot better if we’d had another couple of weeks.’
Listening to Julian Casablancas’ lyrics, there are sounds of desperation, boredom with this whole music malarkey. “I want to be forgotten / and I don’t want to be reminded,” he yells on opening track ‘What Ever Happened’. Listen to ‘Under Control’ and you’ll feel wave upon wave of helplessness. With ‘The End Has No End’ the title alone suggests a monotonous drone, and the suspiciously Is This It sounding ‘I Can’t Win’ is like a band giving up and reverting to the formula that made them what they are.
However, out of all their post-Is This It material, Room On Fire is probably their best work. First Impressions of Earth created a heavier vibe, while Angles was devoid of that. Last year’s Comedown Machine pulled the band in a New Wave direction, while retaining that underlying Alt-Rock sound that Room On Fire specialised in. Room On Fire could have been something else completely, instead, it feels more like a sour taste left by the fast-paced Garage Rock Revival. It would be unfair to call this album a cash-in, a big business wringing the proverbial flannel dry. But it’s not; it’s more like a band put under enormous pressure by the weight of expectation and, in the end, producing an album that just doesn’t meet the hype. Saying that though, ‘Reptillia’ is still a great track.
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