by Michael Goldberg
Monday October 1, 2001
The Strokes: Look Beyond The Hype
A media blitz has created a backlash this New York combo just might not survive.
Writing about The Strokes and their full-length debut, Is This It, I wish I could just talk about the music. How exciting it is. How it makes me feel. The way I got turned on to the band earlier this year, and how I started calling record stores in search of their EP, "The Modern Age," finally finding it at Mod Lang in Berkeley. How I made a special trip there to get it and bought two copies so I'd have an extra in case something happened to one of them. How I listened to it over and over and over.
Normally, if I were writing about some other band, that's what I'd do. But you know as well as I do that I can't do that too much has already gone down. I've got to address the hype and the backlash. Then, maybe, I can get to the music.
Through (almost) no fault of their own, The Strokes have gotten more hype than any other rock band in years. Or at least you have that impression after seeing them twiceon the cover of the NME, not to mention in features in Q, The Face and Magnet, plus lead reviews in Rolling Stone and even Entertainment Weekly. They've also been profiled in plenty of other media.
Too Much Too Soon
I'm sick of all the press too. I don't want to read another Strokes feature. The stories all seem pretty much the same. It might be interesting to hear singer/writer Julian Casablancas talk about songwriting, but I don't want any more detailing of their short history or stories about how they get drunk and get into fights.
This journalistic obsession with The Strokes kinda makes you wonder if the powers that be at some of these media outlets can think for themselves. Like, how come no mainstream media outlet has done a big feature on Unwound? They delivered a masterpiece of an album that is just as good as, if not better than, Is This It. Where was all the press when Guided By Voices released the incredible Isolation Drills earlier this year? Did I miss those three-page spreads on Low? Le Tigre? Black Box Recorder?
The Strokes just happen to be on a major label. Why do I think they wouldn't be getting those lead reviews in Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly if they were on Kill Rock Stars or K?
None of this has anything to do with The Strokes' music, which is really good most of the time, and on occasion ("Barely Legal") transcendent. For good or ill, people compare the band's sound to, among others, Lou Reed/the Velvet Underground, Television and Wire.
I don't hear it. I think Julian Casablancas' voice sounds like Julian Casablancas. I hear intense, minimal rock. A kind of punk rock the edges are raw, the vocals distorted. They sound urban, desperate at times, sexy and hurt, confused and tense. The music makes me feel things. Some of it reminds me of how I felt when I was 16 years old.
Taken on its own, I think Is This It is a great album. But you don't get to take it on its own. All that media attention sits there like an elephant in the middle of the living room, kinda hard to ignore.
Apparently the media want to find a band they can "discover" and celebrate. I understand the desire to be there first, to be able to say that you recognized a band's brilliance before anyone else did. (Of course, it's rare that that's really the case someone else had to discover the band, bring them to the attention of record companies, where others had to sign them. Then the album had to be made. Then a critic could hear the record and jump on the bandwagon....)
I also understand the backlash. If you're a fan of The Shins, Unwound, Augie March, Emperor or another deserving band, and you see all this press about The Strokes and not much about the bands you think are wonderful, it's hard not to feel resentful. I can see how anyone could be ready to hate The Strokes' music by the time they finally get a chance to listen to it. All that media attention makes you start thinking, "This better be really, really good."
I wish all of you who have witnessed the hype could put it aside. I wish you could approach Is This It as if it were an album you bought because a friend whose taste you trust recommended it "Check this out, and listen to 'Barely Legal' first. I think you'll dig it."
If you did approach it like that, I think you might really dig it. I know I do.