The Strokes – Room on Fire

The Strokes Room on Fire Cover Art

Oddly enough, every time I get a new Strokes album, of which there have only been three and I always end up buying them long after they were released, my life is going through some kind of major change. Each of their albums take me back to a very specific point in my life, points that were…not so good. But, even among the worst of times there are good times hidden within and sometimes it just takes a few strokes to remember. Yes, bad pun intended.

Room on Fire, released in 2003, was the much anticipated follow up to the band’s critically acclaimed, and perhaps overhyped but still completely awesome, debut Is This It. Sessions began with famed Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, although the band quickly changed back to their original producer from the first album. How strange it would have been to hear The Strokes knee deep in electronic bloops, bleeps, and general electronica atmosphere. Ah well, we can only imagine.

The album is somewhat, and I use that word very loosely, of a departure from their previous effort and yet the classic Strokes sound is alive and well: sparse production, sparkling guitars mixing with dirty distortion, a rhythm section that keeps things under control, and, of course, vocals sounding like they were sung through a plastic megaphone fed through a pay phone. Still, the band makes all those things work to great effect and even though a lot of people complained that this was merely “Is This It Part 2,” I feel it was shiny new enough to be completely awesome. It just works in its simplicity.

One of the things that has always stood out to me with The Strokes was their ability to blend truly unique melodies amidst crashing rock rhythms. Track after track, singer Julian Casablancas croons over top of the songs with such conviction you can’t help but get sucked into his world – suddenly you’re out at that party with the rest of the band and reveling in the late night feel of it all. In fact, his crooning is so fantastic at times that I sometimes picture him as some sort of (don’t laugh) modern day rock Sinatra. Yeah, I know, comparing ol’ Jules to Mr. Blue Eyes himself  is a stretch but on all three albums he is just crooning his butt off. I have to hand it to Julian, he knows what he’s doing and has wonderful way with melody.

Meanwhile, the twin guitar attack of Albert Hammond, Jr. and Nick Valensi is as tight as ever and the rest of the band follows suit. There’s just something about the simplicity of the songs, and especially something about the texture of the sound, that seems so warm and glowing. There is an interesting dynamic throughout the album where the band drops out and the guitars keep things going and other times where the song builds up to a climax and all you have left is those shimmering dual guitars over top and it’s just plain cool.

Most of the songs take on a nice medium tempo rock beat for Julian to ply his rock crooning over. “Automatic Stop,” “Between Love and Hate,” and especially “Under Control,” all glide by with an easy going attitude and catchy melodies. Meanwhile, “Reptilia,” “Meet Me in the Bathroom,” and the rocking closer “I Can’t Win,” head for a more direct modern rock attack. Still, underneath it all are those great melodies that are hidden within other melodies on top of melodic instrumentation. Have I mentioned melody yet?

Of everything I listen to, people are always most surprised when I throw on The Strokes. But what can I say, I think they’re fantastic! I even saw them during the Room on Fire tour (they opened with “Under Control”) and it was an awesome, good old fashioned rock show! The kind where the musicians are smoking up on the stage (the horror!), blasting raucous feedback over the crowd, and just having a good time doing what they do. And really, that’s what The Strokes are: a good time waiting to happen.

Tracklist

  1. “What Ever Happened?” – 2:54
  2. “Reptilia” – 3:41
  3. “Automatic Stop” – 3:26
  4. “12:51” – 2:33
  5. “You Talk Way Too Much” – 3:04
  6. “Between Love & Hate” – 3:15
  7. “Meet Me in the Bathroom” – 2:57
  8. “Under Control” – 3:06
  9. “The Way It Is” – 2:22
  10. “The End Has No End” – 3:07
  11. “I Can’t Win” – 2:34

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