There was always going to be
a desire to dislike this album and verbalises it by way of a glib pun using its
goading title "Is This It?". Luckily for anyone with a sense of humour, that did
not happen.The truth is, nothing could possibly live up to the expectations this
debut had got going for it. The only debut album in recent memory that has had
the music press likewise slavering all over themselves in anticipation, was the
ELASTICA album. Not unlike The Strokes, Elastica furrowed the same New Wave territory
(albeit with a very English sensibility) and mixed a stylish retro image with
a detached sex appeal. Again, like The Strokes they released a couple of well
received singles and the resultant album delivered exactly what was expected of
However, "Is This It" is no "Elastica". The Strokes songs here
have more depth and brevity thanany of the songs on Justine and co's debut. Indeed,
listening to these songs as a whole one realises that those touch stone musical
references , 'New Wave' and 'Punk', are inarguably too simplistic to accomplish
anything here. In its fun-sized 36 minutes, "Is This It" manages to stamp a broad,
pandemic mix that includes rockabilly, pop, punk, alternative and even reggae
(okay, we made that last bit up, but you get picture) .
For a band whose
reputation has been built on live shows, a key issue seems to how well the bands
material has travelled in transit from the garage to the concert-hall and from
there to the recording studio. "Is This It" has fared pretty well.
energy of Jason Casablancas vocals and Albert Hammond Jr and Nick Valensi's guitars
have coalesced to create a freakishly excellent sound. One minor quibble would
be the production sound of Fab Moretti's drumming - which more often than not,
I'm loathe to say, sound a little too 'clean' for the whole NYC muck fantasy they
got going on nicely elsewhere. This aside ,"Is This It" valiantly reproduces much
of the bands incandescent live shows.
The slowish opener, "Is This It"
with it's killer bass line, has certainly improved since its debut at last months
live shows, proving an eloquent, subtle start to the album."The Modern Age" sounds
as fresh as it did when it was first unleashed as the lead off track of their
debut EP .Next up the garage pop par excellence of "Soma", a classic case of 'less
is more' with its tickly addictive riff and cohesive melody. "Barely Legal" is
perhaps the highlight thus far, melding a Stooges grind and a vocal full of youthful
indignation, a classic in any other time. "Someday" is perhaps a slight let down,
and certainly the only bit of softcore bum-fluff on here, erring as it does, on
the wrong side of simplicity. However (and this is between you and me) the minor
chord build of "Alone Together" more than makes up for it.
and "Hard To Explain" are all present and correct. On the 'pleasant surprise'
stakes there is "NYC Cops", a song which was the highlight of the bands live shows.
And happily enough, the recorded version has still somehow managed to preserve
the songs heady dosage of Raw Power.
To stop what to is to all intents
and purposes a mashed-up raging bull of an album, is the penultimate track, "Trying
Your Luck". A tale of heartbreak and acceptance convincingly delivered by Casablancas,
"Trying Your Luck" kicks up enough lo-brow melancholia to offer a near post-coital
comedown. That's nearly, but not quite. As that would be forgetting (and there
simply is no forgetting) the closer. The closer, "Take It Or Leave" is a great
way to close the proceedings, a top pop classic by any other name. And I mean
that most sincerely.
So there we have it, taken out of cultural context,
"Is This It" stands on its own. With the hype as grand as they have had it, it
is enough to say that Public Enemy were wrong. You can believe the hype. At least
Priya Elangasinghe for Crud Magazine© 2001