Is This It: The Strokes & The NYC Garage Rock Resurgence

In 2001, New York City was in the midst of a resurgence in terms of Rock Bands. Groups such as The Yeah YeahYeahs, The Moldy Peaches, The Walkmen, Jonathan Fire*eater, and The Strokes were causing a stir, as documented in Lizzy Goodman’s excellent book, Meet Me In The Bathroom. The Strokes, in particular, led the pack with their debut album, Is This It.

The original cover of Is This It was initially banned due to it being “too graphic.”

The Strokes formed in 1998, and are comprised of Julian Casablancas (the son of John Casablancas, the founder of Elite Model Management ) on Vocals, Nick Valensi, and Albert Hammond Jr. on guitar, Nikolai Fraiture on Bass, and Fabrizio Moretti on drums. At the very least, the band had great names. Hammond Jr. is the son of Albert Hammond, who was a successful songwriter and solo artist in the 70s.

The group’s EP, The Modern Age, was released in early 2001 and caused a bidding war amongst major labels. The band ended up signing with RCA Records, and their debut album was released in July. It was very well received, and ended on many best-of lists that year, and is considered one of the best debut albums of all time.

The album starts with the title track, “Is This It,” which is a mid-tempo song that sets the tone for the record. Given the hype around the band, the title is appropriate. Next, is the first single, “The Modern Age,” a song where Julian Casablancas repeats the phrases, “Let me go,” and, “I’m leaving.” “Soma” is another up-tempo track in the same vein as “The Modern Age.” “Barely Legal” is a song about an eighteen-year-old girl. It includes the line, “Oh, you ain’t never had nothing I wanted, but I want it all, I just can’t figure it out,” which sounds much like a desire to have something you didn’t think you want. Casablancas’ father had an affair with a sixteen-year-old at one point, so, that may have been a source of inspiration.

The single, “Someday,” follows and references succeeding alone. It mentions a girl named, “Maya,” who may or may not have existed. Many girls are mentioned on the record, and it is unclear if they are based on real people or not. “Alone, Together” has a great melody and kicks in immediately, and is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and, “Oh, you drink too much, makes me drink just the same,” is one of my favorite lines in the song, and on the album.

Last Night” is next, and was one of the big singles off the record, and it showed up in movies, and TV shows as well. This song was also part of The Moden Age EP and is a great rocker. “Hard To Explain” was the first single released off the record and is a great song similar in style to “The Modern Age.”

The next track, “New York Cops,” was removed from US versions of the album after the 9/11 attacks. It featured the lyrics, “New York City Cops, they ain’t too smart.” The track was replaced by “When It Started” on US versions. “Trying Your Luck” details pursuing a woman. Later in the song, Casablancas mentions, “The signals ain’t right, and I am sorry I said we were good friends.” The album ends with “Take It Or Leave It,” which is a great way to end. A full-on rocker.

Also of note, the album cover was changed due to the nudity of a woman’s backside with a black-gloved hand on it. The label feared it may not be able to sell in the big box stores or smaller family-run stores. It was changed to a photograph of particles colliding in the Big European Bubble Chamber. I prefer the original as it reminds me of 70s Rock albums. It stands out more too, I think.

The replacement cover of Is This It was far tamer than its predecessor.

So, in summary, Is This It is one of my all-time favorite albums, and one of the better debut albums of all time. Some may feel The Strokes‘ output was a mixed bag after this, but this one surely stands as an amazing piece of work.

Please check out the video below where I speak about The Strokes classic debut, Is The It:

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