|The Strokes - Room on Fire|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 28 October 2003|
The Strokes hit the ground running over two years ago, springing from the venues and clubs of New York and bursting onto the scene with their hit “Last Nite.” Room On Fire, the follow-up to their successful first album Is This It, should prove to do just as well, but if their third album sounds the same, then it will be time to put the Strokes out to pasture as one of those groups that just can’t seem to break its own mold.
“What Ever Happened?” is a great if perhaps almost too catchy way to start the album. We know right away who we’re listening to and we’re glad that the sound is familiar. Julian Casablancas picks up where he left off, with his obviously-from-New York vocals, combining both warmth and grittiness. Like many of their songs, “Automatic Stop” has the sensibility of a ballad, thanks in part to the painfully soulful vocals, while still maintaining the upbeat posturing that makes The Strokes such a joy to listen to. “You Talk Way Too Much” is a song title that we can all relate to. It too combines that super-upbeat ballad sensibility with very heartfelt vocals. One of the things that makes the Strokes so appealing is the sheer joy you can hear in the performance, a joy that, because of the rawness of the final product, never seems forced or false. These guys just seem like they’re having fun and it makes their music that way. What will determine how good a band they are is whether they can change things up a bit in their next album. The Strokes are all very young and are perhaps too focused on making the most of what they already have, but the ability to expand the repertoire is what sets the great bands apart from the good ones, not to mention the fact that it usually increases longevity.
If there’s one thing that’s markedly improved on this album, it’s the overall sound quality. While The Strokes have a very raw, almost sandpaper style, it can sometimes detract a bit from the overall sound, especially if the two guitars and lead vocals aren’t mixed correctly. On the previous album, Casablancas’ vocals were often cancelled out, but the mixing is much more refined on Room on Fire. It’s especially noticeable on tracks like “Reptilia,” where the vocals are gruff and both guitars help cover the melody. The overall sound quality is improved as well, fewer artifacts seem to be present in the recording. Another factor in the improved sound quality is the performance of the musicians. There seems to be a bit more room given to the two guitarists, Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr., to show off their growing talent and ability, both in terms of the writing and the mixing, as the guitars have more individually distinct personality than on Is This It.
In the end, the long-term success of the Strokes will hinge on their ability to continue to improve not only as songwriters, but also as musicians. If you liked Is This It, then it is almost a guarantee that you will like Room on Fire; whether or not you grow tired of the music will remain to be seen. Hopefully The Strokes will continue to improve and evolve so that we can enjoy their talent for years to come. In the meantime, their first two albums are definitely worth the time.