Room on Fire
Rough Trade Records
Review by Tate Blackmore
Last year, classic rock fans, punk-pop kids and snooty vinyl junkies straight out of High Fidelity, united to celebrate the return of down and dirty garage rock. The forbearers of the movement: The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Hives and Australia's The Vines, brought the oddity, grittiness, spectacle and the excess back to rock n' roll. While many also agreed that these bands delivered a much-needed right hook to the jaw of the industry, they also claimed that none of these bands had enough fire to match Nirvana or possessed the staying power of Pearl Jam. So far, only The White Stripes have proven them wrong with their thumping sophomore effort, Elephant (review).
Now it's The Strokes' turn. Their 2001 smash, Is This It, was like the New York Dolls without the make-up, an in-key Velvet Underground, the Doors in sneakers, and something that was totally their own. On their follow-up, Room on Fire, not much has changed. And that's a good thing. Instead of declaring that guitars were the devil's work and stacking layers of samples and beats on their songs to reinvent themselves, which some thought inevitable when Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich was tapped (his tracks were later scrapped), The Strokes simply got better.
What Ever Happened? the first track, thumps to life with a brief drum sample and singer and songwriter Julian Casablancas crooning, "I want to be forgotten, / and I don't want to be reminded. / You say 'please don't make this harder.'/ No I won't yet." This sets the tone for Room. The Strokes haven't taken any drastic leaps here (the aforementioned drum loop being the biggest), and are focused on perfecting their sound. Casablancas keeps the lyrics conversational and the riffs clean and catchy. In Under Control, perhaps one of the finest songs they've ever recorded, the band hovers around the raw but beautiful refrain, which keeps the song tight and ultimately memorable. In Between Love & Hate things gets borderline honky-tonk as the guitars slide up and down over the chorus as Casablancas talks/sings, "I never needed anybody / Don't worry about it honey."
And, there are plenty of upbeat numbers that have been mainstays in the band's set since last summer, like Meet Me In The Bathroom, and The Way It Is. It's too bad they released the album in November, because Room is the perfect album to go cruisin' around the city with the top down in the summertime. In 12:51, the leadoff single, Casablancas sings, "We could go and get 40s / F---k goin' to that party / Oh really, your folks are away now? / Alright, let's go, you convinced me," over snappy handclaps and a head bobbing rhythm.
Once the last track, I Can't Win screeches to halt, it doesn't matter if the Strokes can match the ferocity of Nirvana or can become an independent touring entity like Eddie Vedder's crew, because just hearing a good rock band at the top of their game is sweet enough.
You can purchase Room on Fire from Amazon.com for $12.99.
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