Room on Fire (2003) ***
"I want to be forgotten," introduces the first line, and congratulations, Julian Casablancas, you've succeeded: it's the cusp of the second decade of the 21st century and no one cares about your little band anymore. Oh, what bright hopes we had for your futures in 2001, but your second album defines the term sophomore slump. There are no artistic advances and the songs sound like outtakes from the debut. There are two changes, one for the neutral and one for the worse. The lukewarm news is that the songs have more of an '80s new wave feel, with guitars uncannily whistling like synthesizers (how did they do that? Seriously, that's a really cool guitar effect! How did they do that?!) Bummer: the songs are a few centimeters slower. Only a few fractions, but with a formula so tight and fragile as the Strokes', a few decimal places throws everything off kilter. There are still cute little hooks all over the place, the melodies aren't lacking, and the choruses seem to have actually improved a bit. But, alas, minus the heady speed of the debut, what we're left with is eleven unexceptional glam-garage numbers all performed in the same style with an increasingly soul-less perfunctorism. The sound and songs hew so closely in exactitude to the debut, and yet so fail to inspire me with more than an appreciative nod of, "not bad, lads," that it made me question what I'd seen of such great worth in the debut. Well, the debut still is great, and the followup is....pretty good. I'm not lying, see those stars I gave it? That's a good grade. It's pretty good. Nothing great. And since the great is the enemy of the good, I feel no compulsion other than my duty as a reviewer to listen to this when there's so much better music out there begging for my time. Oh, it's not bad, offensive, or unenjoyable in any way. If someone plays it at a party, I'll get up and dance. I'll hoist a beer to it if it comes on a jukebox in a bar. If I hear it on the car radio, I won't change the channel. But walking into my room, glancing around the room at my thousands-strong CD collection, and out of all those choices, picking this disc? No.
As with the debut, a song by song analysis seems more trouble than it's worth, considering that all of the songs sound the same. Some are better than the others, but once you've heard one Strokes song, seriously, you have indeed heard them all. "12:51" stands out immediately as strong enough to be the lead single, and hey, guess what - it was! Since I wasn't physically in America in 2003, I had no way of knowing that and thus wasn't unduly influenced by radio exposure. In fact, I didn't even hear this album until 2006, when I bought a bootleg copy for 35 pisos in a Manila black market. That's around three quarters, which is a fair price to pay for this album. Heck, I might even pay twice that, if I had to do it again. I'm dating myself, aren't I? Physically buying albums in real life spaces. Kids today illegally download tracks, and one track at a time, they don't have the attention span to sit through those fuddy-duddy 20th century artifacts called albums. Today's consumers have revived music peddling as a singles' market.
But back to the Strokes. "Under Control," is a teensy bit different as a stab at a more mainstream-ish pop ballad, not that it really works, and the lyrics of "Meet Me in the Bathroom," are self-descriptively sleazy, and.....forget it, I don't feel like this. It's a Strokes album. You know what it sounds like. Buy it or download it or whatever if you want to. I don't care.
See, kids? Repeated exposure has left me as bored and disaffected as Julian Casablancas. Careful with those lines of coke and groupies, Eugene.