First Impressions Of Earth
By: Eric Greenwood
As derivative as Is This It was, The Strokes still managed to define themselves on their own terms. To this day, the haters lash out at the band as venomously as they did in the beginning, citing everything from the band's privileged background to the sheer luck of picking out the right clothes, but the backlash only becomes hollower as The Strokes refuse to sink under the pressure of sustaining their own hype.
Fist Impressions of Earth will not spark a cultural ripple like Is This It did. Rarely do bands get the chance to be in the right place at the right time twice in a career. Room on Fire may have suffered from too much sameness, but a lateral step is always better than a backwards one. The Strokes knew that this third record would either prove their detractors right or cement their status as a rock band that matters, and they step up to the challenge with a ballsy batch of rock songs.
The lackadaisical, muted chugging that opens "You Only Live Once" is misleading as far as what this album does to The Strokes' core sound, but it offers a familiar musical palette to ease fans in to what is to come. Julian Casablancas sounds typically full of himself, but his raggedy grumble is in top form. He may not have much to say in terms of substantive lyrics (see "Ask Me Anything"), but the way he delivers his lines makes up for any lack of poetic sensibility. And, let's face it, nobody is listening to The Strokes for the lyrics, anyway.
The real changes begin with the first single, "Juicebox", in which the increasingly taut rhythm section does its best "Peter Gun Theme" impression while Casablancas belligerently snarls "whyyyy won't you come over here-uhhhhh" over the most aggressive dueling guitars the band has ever employed. It's a weird, schizophrenic song, running through Strokes' specific indie jangle and recessive, emotive tangents, which allow Casablancas to prove that he has a range outside of miming Jim Morrison's baritone.
Thankfully, Gordon Raphael was replaced as producer to allow the band to rock outside of a tinny megaphone. The Strokes match their innate catchiness with a new found intensity that makes First Impressions of Earth sound like a band hungry for blood and not one that's content to make niche music for white dudes with afros and girls jeans and distressed baseball sleeves.