I first saw Is This It in Woolworths back in 2001 and recall being transfixed by that cover – I was nine, but it was album artwork that stuck with me in the way that Warhol’s banana cover intrigues you long before you actually hear ‘Sunday Morning’. My friend and I debated over what it depicted (“It’s too fat to be a knee”, “but why would they put someone’s bum on the front cover?!”). It seemed a bit weird and seedy, sure – but, frankly, it was nothing on the bizarre Rod Stewart album cover that was placed alongside it.
Of course, my interest in the album cover left me as soon as it left the shelves and, before I got into garage guitars, my music tastes took me through pop, R&B and a little bit of grunge. In 2007 I finally purchased all of The Strokes’ albums on a whim; I was getting into guitar music properly, and their name was one that kept coming up. I remember saving Is This It ‘til last, making sure I really wanted to listen to it because, if my growing interest in the music press had taught me anything, it was that this was the album to listen to.
And I still struggle to articulate exactly what I thought when I first played it – I guess, at the risk of sounding really lame and ridiculous, I feel a little bit like I’m falling in love every time I hear it. The siren-like beginning heralding in the butterflies-in-stomach-inducing bass lines, the virtuoso sweet melodies of the guitars, the propulsive drums and the beyond seductive vocals of one Julian “man of my dreams” Casablancas.
Perhaps my first inclination at the age of nine that the album looked seedy was correct – there is undeniably something of a heady, tantalising rush to the tracks; something inherently dirty about lyrics like “I wanna steal your innocence…I just want to misbehave/I just want to be your slave”, but that is exactly why there is such a raw, feral magnetism to the album. Its beauty is in its grit; in its knowing smirk in instances such as belittling the New York police – “New York City cops, they ain’t too smart”.
Also while I’m waxing lyrical about their lyrics, in that particular song – as well as the “oh…haha…I meant…ahhh” intro, I love the blunt cynicism of “just kill me now ’cause I’ll let you down”. The beautiful but tragic ‘Alone, Together‘ has the exquisite lines “the world is over, but I don’t care… ’cause I am with you”, and the incredible ‘Trying Your Luck‘ is full of naive romantic optimism: “Well I’ll try my luck with you…believe me this is a chance”. The weary brilliance of the title track is wonderful too, with the simple admission: “I can’t think ’cause I’m just way too tired”.
And, of course, there is the excellent romantic, whimsical guitar pop of songs like ‘Last Nite’, ‘Soma’, ‘Someday’, and ‘The Modern Age’ too. These fit so well between the dark songs, the love songs, the lascivious songs, the sad, bitter songs. All together Is This It it is a sweet little album made-up of perfect songs.
If you know me, you’ll know that I love pretty much the entirety of The Strokes’ oeuvre, including the solo projects and the side projects – even this blog is named after a song by drummer Fabrizio Moretti’s other band, and the tagline is from a lesser known Strokes demo track. I do resent that The Strokes have been pinned down by music critics as having just one fantastic album because they are so much more than that; but, at the same time, there is no denying that Is This It is something else. It’s had so much adulation that you suspect it must be hyperbole, and yet when you actually just listen it’s beyond any superlatives that come to mind.
It’s a perfect album which has soundtracked some perfect moments and, listening to it and the rest of their output for the first time in a long while this morning, I felt the need to express in unnecessarily wordy form that like a son – I adore this like a son. And for those of you unfamiliar with weird Strokes references; well, it should be embarrassingly apparent that I love this album and this band a strange, obsessive amount.