The Strokes - Room On Fire
Rarely does a band storm a wave of hype so fashionably than The Strokes, with their New York scruff-art-chic and the heir-to-millions appeal of lead singer Julian Casablancas. The band took 2001 forcibly by the neck with the infectious rapid rocker of retro seventies’ NY punk Is This It, and have toured frequently in order to put off writing their second album.
The warning signs were there from the start. The band certainly weren’t rich with material. All of the B-sides to every single or EP made the album (discounting When It Started which DID make the US version anyhow), and Last Nite, an original B-side in itself, was later released as its own single when the time was right to colonize the dance floor.
Compared to the vibrant rawness of debut EP The Modern Age, the band’s first album was far too polished and plodding under the helm of producer Gordon Raphael, which seemed to match their vacuous stage presence. Their second album, Room On Fire is depressing in that it demonstrates just how quickly the road to excess can drive a band to self parody.
Listening to this very short diversion (lasting under thirty four minutes) the album feels strongly as if the band has stared at Is This It for months scratching their heads at how to recreate it, merely chopped it up and reassembled it, hoping the public won’t notice. There isn’t a trace of hard-edged rock on the album; the tempo is pedestrian, the sound resembles more of a Casio keyboard demo as opposed to an actual band. The ironic tribute EP The Diff’rent Strokes, produced on an actual Casio keyboard, sounds more like the band than this half-assed effort. You start to wonder just who parted with who in the Strokes / Nigel Godrich affair.
The album fails because it smacks of a cop out. The apparent effort given to Room On Fire sounds like a bare minimum based on the evidence of the songs in question. All of the new songs contain obvious traces of previous efforts. What Ever Happened? is an OK start to the album, but it fails to deliver a key chorus. Reptilia is the best track by far, with a moody intro riff and powerful “Please don’t slow me down, if I’m going too fast” chorus, even if the chords sound like Soma reversed. It would have been better as the single off the album. The chosen single, 12:51, is trademark Strokes without any hook whatsoever, even though they try their best by adding a handclap.
Are The Strokes a rock band anymore? The third track Automatic Stop is just as medium-paced as the rest. It’s as if the whole album is exiled filler from Is This It. You Talk Way Too Much flies by without mustering any attention, which is a good thing as Between Love And Hate is easily the most fun to be had on the album. It’s Room On Fire’s equivalent to the feelgood of Someday, and sounds like a male-fronted Blondie in their prime. Feel like you’ve heard Meet Me In The Bathroom before? That’s because the chord sequence is VERY similar to Hard To Explain. Sticking to a winning formula is one thing, rehashing a formula and squeezing any appeal out of it in the process is another. Under Control is surprisingly quite interesting considering it’s a soulful slow burner, but at position eight in the album it fits nicely, and is paced correctly for once. The End Has No End contains the same Fab Moretti drum fills that every other pounding attempt possesses, but at least it has Casablancas straining himself for a change on lead vocals. By the time you get to The Way It Is you’ll be searching for your receipt, or deleting eleven items from your My Folder if you downloaded it. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t heard the last track, even if I Can’t Win actually has an ounce of oomph to it and ranks in the top three songs on the album, with its addictive chord progression that gets you jigging from side to side. You’d be better advised to spend your hard-earned cash on the forthcoming remastered re-issue of Marquee Moon as opposed to this excuse for an album.
Is This It reminded us how great bands like Television, Blondie and The Velvets were, and how much we miss them. Room On Fire, which itself should be more accurately titled Room Containing A Small Candle, demonstrates that we should start missing The Strokes.