Room on Fire Album reviews.
Release Date: 10.28.03
Record label: RCA
So Many Fish There Are in the Sea
by: bill aicher
Being positioned as a leader in your genre can definitely have both its positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, the public listening audience is going to look to you as the bar upon which other acts of your ilk are measured. But on the negative side, being considered the bar upon which others are measured means you have to set your bar quite high - and continue to do so throughout your career as you inevitably become compared to the bar you, yourself, set years ago.
But another negative aspect of being "the bar," especially in a burgeoning genre that quickly evolves into one of the most popular genres of your day, is the fact that the musical aspirations you worked so hard for with your early work just may end up backfiring. In the case of The Strokes, when their debut Is This It hit mid-2001 they were one of the first major acts to embrace the "the" mentality, namely the revival of 60's and 70's stripped down garage-style rock. And, as part of the definition of this genre, it isn't really a popular style. Rather it's meant to be what rock 'n' roll is at it's heart: raw, grungy, sexy and gritty
In the time since the release of Is This It (actually this ball started rolling with their EPs), The Strokes went from modern rock underlings to ballyhooed rock heroes to a band sometimes despised by rock purists as image-heavy label pawns.
So this leaves the Strokes at a difficult point. When your whole "schtick" is doing that stripped down retro rock 'n' roll thing, but you're latest album has sent you to nearly becoming pop stars, how do you retain the same mentality while still being true to what you really want to do. One option would be to expand your musical artistic skills, possibly by employing one of the most sought-after producers of recent time: Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Travis, Beck). Well The Strokes tried that, and quickly decided it didn't work for them.
As a fall-back plan The Strokes enlisted the help of producer Gordon Raphael, the same man behind the controls of Is This It, for their sophomore release Room on Fire. And the end result is much what one would expect: another Strokes album. From the opening lines of "What Ever Happened" it's obvious very little has changed as far as musical approach here. Room on Fire is very much a continuation of Is This It, albeit a much more concise continuation. If you didn't like Is This It you're not going to like Room on Fire, but if you dug Is This It, you're likely to dig Room on Fire quite a bit more.
The music is still full of dirty little guitar riffs and solos and Julian Casablancas' dirty little songs of sex and love that sound like cheap beer and smoke. But the difference here, and what makes Room on Fire so engaging is that The Strokes truly mesh as a band now. Never has there been a dirty little rock record that's as clean and concise, without a second of wasted space, as Room on Fire. Sure, things tend to go a bit more of the pop road than "New York City Cops" ever could have let on - most notably the Ric Ocasek-inspired, hand-clap, new-wave pop jam "12:51."
But what The Strokes have obviously realised throughout all the touring, interviews and recording is that it doesn't really matter where everyone else places them in the big picture. What matters is that they make their music, perfect it, and grow as they see fit.
And since Room on Fire is about as perfect as this reviewer could imagine their current sound, let's hope next time around there's a bit of evolution. But for now, I'm happy to toast my MGD to Julian and the rest of The Strokes crew for a job well done. 03-Mar-2004 4:30PM