The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth
Record Label: RCA
Release Date: January 3, 2006
Hype. The one word to describe The Strokes since they burst on the scene with their stunning debut, Is This It. It helped launch the band to legions of people who were tired of the Limp Bizkit and Crazy Town (remember them?) craze and led them to a new sound: garage rock. But it also brought people to a huge indie rock community that were only subjected in the media by Pitchfork (eww) and listened to by hipsters who live in lofts and support Ralph Nader. The hype not only greatly benefited them; it also burdened them greatly. Slogans such as "the saviors of rock and roll" put great pressure on the band. News outlets such as NME and Rolling Stone definitely overwhelmed the band to the point where alcohol and drug use was common during tours supporting Is This It . It led to lead singer Julian Casablancas to quit the partying ways. Room on Fire, the band's second album, was released in 2003 to try to elevate the band to a bigger audience. Even though it was received very well by critics and fans alike, it didn't do too much to change the sound or go in a different direction from the debut album.
But that is not the case with First Impressions of Earth. The sound is much more expansive and bigger; production is cleaner, but in the process, the band loses its "fuzzy charm," as Casablancas has stated in interviews. Album opener "You Only Live Once" is an excellent introduction to the album. Simple riffs by guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi elevate the song as Casablancas' vocals reach new heights no Strokes song has ever been to. "Juicebox," the album's lead single, gives a heavy feel that they haven't shown on any other track. It’s the song that retains the fuzzy characteristic. "Heart in a Cage," a personal favorite, keeps going with the theme that The Strokes have characterized so very well: not giving a fuck. Drummer Fab Moretti keeps up to his standard of making the simplest of drum beats sound more difficult and booming than they should be.
The album starts to lose a little bit of its welcome on the track "Ask Me Anything." Only Casablancas' voice and a melltron, played by Valensi, are heard throughout the song -- a rare for the Strokes at this point in their career. Lines like "don't be a coconut, God is trying to talk you" and the chorus repeating the line "I've got nothing to say" lead the listener to ponder why the track was included on the album in the first place. But the next track, "Electrictyscape," recovers the ground lost. Casablanacas' lyrics are a high point of the song, interpreted as his feelings towards the members of the band and the struggles of his sobriety and Valensi's and Hammond Jr.'s musicianship on the track seal it as underrated highlight of the album. "Killing Lies," a slow moving ballad written by Casablancas and bassist Nikolai Fraiture, showcases the band's tightness and evident chemistry throughout the band. "Ize of the World,” described as "a weird song" by Casablancas, is accompanied by the best guitar work from Valensi and Hammond Jr.'s careers and makes the listener feel like they are flying through space throughout the chorus. "Evening Sun" contains a very bizarre structure and is a forgettable song in The Strokes catalog. The album closer, "Red Light," which could be mistaken by as a Queen song by the riffs played by Valensi and Hammond Jr., rounds out the album.
Lyrically, Casablancas is very inconsistent. In a song like "You Only Live Once," the lyrics perfectly embody how life is when you share it with a partner and the neurotic thoughts that you have from time to time. On the song, "Ask Me Anything," the lyrics are a perfect example of how Casablancas still struggles to find the right words. Length is another issue with the album. Clocking in at 52:19, it's the band's longest album, and it shows the loss of The Strokes’ greatest strength: Being able to write brilliant tight and concise rock pop songs. The musicianship is stellar throughout the album and is definitely the saving grace of the album. The sequencing of each song, regardless of the song's content, is a perfect way to make it feel like a true album.
First Impressions of Earth is a welcomed change to the band's sound and offers newfound elements that the band was either reluctant to do or not caring to do. Even though it's not the band's magnum opus, the positives outweigh the negatives and stands up as a great album. They may never save rock and roll as predicted in the past, but that was never their intent in the first place.