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The Strokes

     The Modern Age EP (Rough Trade, 2001)
      Is This It? (RCA, 2001)
     Room on Fire (RCA, 2003)
    First Impressions Of Earth (RCA, 2006)

The continuing story of the black leather jacket, starring five New York dolls. As 2001 dawned, the Strokes were still playing local dive bars, with puffy-lipped leather-boy Julian Casablancas saying things like "Awww, don't fuckin' yawn!" before tumbling drunk off the stage. But the Strokes seduced the world with their all-mod-cons flash and New York punk guitar attack. The band's first release was the three-song Modern Age EP, featuring raw, never-topped versions of "Last Nite" and "Barely Legal." Is This It? was a flawless debut album, making you jump up and down at the rhythm-guitar action of manic lust-for-lust anthems like "Soma," "Someday," and "Hard to Explain," in which drummer Fab Moretti (everyone's favorite!) steals the show. It's a much better album than the Vibrators, the Merton Parkas, Secret Affair, Bram Tchaikovsky, or even the Only Ones ever made. Julian had the philosophical query of the year, too: "Life seems unreal/Can we go back to your place?" The Strokes foolishly censored their original leather-glove-on-bare-ass cover, so you'll have to download your own; also, "New York City Cops" was replaced by "When It Started," although you want both. ("New York City Cops" is on the U.K. CD single of "Hard to Explain.")

From the sounds of Room on Fire, the Strokes encountered a girl or two in their recent adventures, so it's a wonder they found time to come up with another album, let alone one this great. It's their answer to the Stones' Flowers, with Julian running the romantic gauntlet from "Meet Me in the Bathroom" to "You Talk Way Too Much." Guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. devise perfect new-wave handclap hooks in "12:51" and "The End Has No End," the rhythm section raves in "Reptilia," and Julian proves he can do Marvin Gaye ("Automatic Stop"), although Smokey Robinson is beyond his grasp ("Under Control"). It will end in tears, no doubt, but the Strokes were the most fun band around in their moment: so fast, so slatternly, so generous with the amphe-fe-fe-fetamine hooks.

Nearly as long as the first two albums combined, First Impressions of Earth was the excessive, erratic follow-up that Room on Fire wasn't; if they'd switched the order of the two, Room on Fire undoubtedly would have gotten hailed as their return to form. The Strokes indulged their art-rock ambitions, with ponderosities like "Electricityscape" and "Vision of Division," but didn't have enough songs for a full album. Since then the Strokes have splintered for solo projects—most notably Albert Hammonds's Yours To Keep and Como Te Llama?, Julian Casablancas' Phrazes for the Young, and Fab Moretti's band Little Joy.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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