It all happened so fast. The bright lights were blinding. It was a whirlwind of heat and confusion. The air was thick and heavy and I couldn't catch my breath. We were like a runaway train everything happening outside flashing. Trying to focus made me dizzy.
Suddenly I was surrounded. All I can see now is faceless people hordes of them. The "good news" keeps coming in from every direction. It's overwhelming and making me feel nauseous. Ignore it, just ignore it. This is good; this is supposed to be good. But the faceless people are pawing at me. They all want something. And it's all happening so fast. And I'm dizzy. The air is thick and I can't catch my breath. And God it's hot in here. It feels like the room is on fire. And if they don't stop calling the next album "hotly anticipated" I'm going to collapse under pressure.
It can't be easy being The Strokes (though we're certain it's not all bad either). But you gotta feel for them. You really do.
What happened to the years of training and preparation, the years of heartbreak and, eventually, finally, triumph? What about the shitty vans, the shitty dives and shitty turnouts? Shouldn't they have had to fall down again and again before rising up to prove themselves worthy? Shouldn't they have been given the chance to introduce themselves to the world without the world having already done it for them?
No, their sound sparked a flame right off the bat, one that would burst into a wildfire, lighting the pants of hipster snobs everywhere. And, oh yes, amidst a buzzing haze of disapproval and disgust, hipster slacks in urban centers the worldwide were indeed on fire. They were jealous so they lied. They called them rich, pretty-boy rip-offs. They wished they could like them. But by the sanctions of hipster circles everywhere The Strokes were on too many magazine covers and came from backgrounds too affluent to be cool. So dissing The Strokes was hip, liking them was not.
Given that the mainstream media have mutated into a horrifying over-hyped beast in recent times (regardless of the topic at hand), it should have shocked no one that The Strokes (and those that followed) were, much to their own dismay, subject to the hype machine. The machine was built to generate money, period it does not determine the worth of art, or offer any accurate picture of our world, for that matter. So trying to understand The Strokes through the hype was impossible. Hell, they didn't even have time to understand themselves.
The Strokes skipped the shittiness many hard-working bands endure. But that doesn't mean they skipped hardship altogether. Like a child forced to grow up too fast, The Strokes struggled to find themselves in a world they hadn't previously known. They had to find themselves in a new room. And the room was, no doubt, on fire. And you can feel the heat all through their new, hotly, hotly, hotly anticipated sophomore album.
The Strokes don't make the most original sounding music you've ever heard, but they make something that is only The Strokes. You hear a Strokes song yep, that's definitely a Strokes song; they don't sound like anyone else (despite their punk and rock influences). So don't expect an album that doesn't sound like the last. It sounds a lot like the last (2001's Is This It) but it doesn't replicate it. The Strokes write good songs. And I don't know what that means to you, but to me it means they make you feel. The Strokes' honesty and heart stop me from whatever I'm doing or whatever I'm thinking about and make me feel. All the pettiness and routine of day-to-day life falls away and I feel it doesn't matter what I feel; it just feels good to feel because it reminds you you're still alive and you have this life and how is it going anyway?
So where's the fire you ask? Burning in every hook-laden song. Lead singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas vents the frustrations of living in a new room where everything moves too fast, room for air is getting short and it's getting much too hot to handle. "Did they offend us and they want it to sound new? /Top 10 ideas for countdown shows/ Whose culture is this and does anybody know?" Casablancas pleads with pain in his voice on the jittery opener "What Ever Happened?"
His forced adaptation to his new circumstances is also relayed on the angry and wiry "Reptilla" (full of incredible dueling, spiraling guitar work): "Please don't slow me down/ If I'm going too fast/ You're in a strange part of town," he sings urgently, speaking to himself as he commonly does. "Yeah, the night's not over/ You're not trying hard enough/ Our lives are changing lanes/ You ran me off the road/ The wait is over/ I'm now taking over."
The album's most heart-wrenching track, "Automatic Stop," features an upbeat but tugging, emotive melody while "12:51" is a lighthearted Cars-inspired, poppy number filled with handclaps and breezy melodies. Both feature lines of frustration: "I was a train moving too fast" from "Automatic Stop" and "Is it this stage I want?" from the latter.
"You Talk Way Too Much" juxtaposes the darkness of the hype machine against airy croons and jangly riffs before Casablancas breaks into a desperate but pissy chorus. "Forget what you heard/ 'Cause it won't stop/ It won't stop," he sings lightly before breaking into the chorus, which sounds like it could have been a bit of advice the band received on a number of occasions. "Give 'em some time/ They just need a little time."
That's all it took really. The Strokes got caught in a ball of confusion and debate, endured the sticky heat of hype and snobbery and exploded under circumstances never previously known to man (I mean bands). This was a new game a new method of introduction. It just took the audience some time getting used to (it's easy to see today that many of the hipsters have indeed acquiesced). They just had to take off their media blinders and see the light the fire started. It's an amazing kind of warm.