Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth

I've got nothing to say, I've got nothing to say, I'VE GOT NOTHING TO SAY!

First Impressions Of Earth (2006) **1/2

The median song length hovers between 3 1/2 to 4 minutes long, and clocking in at nearly an hour, the Strokes' third album is nearly as long as the first two albums combined.  They've dropped the distortion effects on the vocals and instruments a bit, sounding like a straightforward rock band than before, but the difference in effect is slighter than you'd expect - the Strokes still sound like the Strokes, the scrappy little garage band that could.  Note past tense.  The one song that offers a stylistic departure, the above-quoted "Ask Me Anything," a mellotron ballad, is by far the worst tune on the disc; there's no doubting Julian Casablancas' sincerity in which he repeatedly confesses his vapidity, and later on in the closing track, "Red Light," he sings of "an entire generation that has nothing to say."  From the looks of a great swath of  '00s culture, that does sum up many kids of Gen Y, and if hipster zines like Pitchfork are going to anoint a garage-new wave retread with zero originality (fun as it was) such as Is This It?  as the greatest album of the decade, that only nails the coffin shut.  But oh ye of little faith, today's whippersnappers can surely do better than this.  Even if they have nothing to say, that's nothing new - very little rock'n'roll has ever been of any greater social import than dope and fucking in the streets.  A little creativity, however, is never too much to ask, no matter how seemingly used up and spat out the rock cliches were by the Iraq Occupation era.

The seeming paradox that most of these songs aren't all that bad and yet listening to this album in one sitting is such an excruciating experience can be doped out in the first sentence of this review.  The Strokes are a garage rock band with limited ideas and limited technical abilities, and thus it is simple:  shorter & faster = better; longer & more midtempo = suckier.  A typical Strokes song on this album is to take a catchy little ditty that starts off promisingly enough, and then drag it out by repeating the chorus five to six to seven times until it's bored into your bored skull.  At 4:38, the endless chanting of the title of "On the Other Side," which Casablancas mistakes for a vocal hook, is the worst offender.  "You know what to change, but not in what way," he advises another in "Vision of Division," which shows off the lead guitarist's recent discovery tweedly-dee pop-metal runs to annoying effect (another annoyance of the record; he doesn't have to show off his newly learned trick in half the damn songs).  Well should the Strokes take such advice.  The Interpol-ish "Electricityscape," can be easily overlooked as the best song, stuck where it is smack in the middle of the album; but it's a slight stylistic departure, not a viable path forward.  And there's the problem - with 14 songs stretching out to nearly an hour, all in the same style with only slight differences, cherrypicking the highlights is one difficult job, and given that the highlights are not really that high, it's not unreasonable for the listener to ask, "Why bother?"  I should mention "Evening Sun," which stands out if only for unexpectedly shifting from ballad to rocker at the 2:15 mark - not that it's that good, but it is one of the album's only genuine surprises.  But that's as much as I'm going to bother myself any further.  The Strokes shouldn't expect any more patience from their fans and listeners, because the reward to effort ratio doesn't make this album worth it.


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