When I was smaller I once read an album review of a New Album by A Beloved Rock Band. It was not a positive review, in fact it was a very bad one. It concluded by saying that Beloved Rock Band had frittered away what little natural talent they had possessed and had now made perhaps the worst record of its year. The reason the record was so bad was that Beloved Rock Band were ripping off a whole host of other bands, an absolute litany of bands who I’d never at that point heard of. I was a little shaken and felt a bit foolish for investing so much time and emotion in Beloved Rock Band but I went and bought New Album anyhow and, surprise surprise, I loved it. In fact New Album became Best Album Ever for a good few years and I still play it a lot.
This might have been when I realised that reviewers do not always compare bands in reviews in order to educate you. About 45% of the time we do it because we’re too lazy to describe the music (my particular curse, this) and about 50% of the time we do it because we want to slap you down for being younger than us or having heard less than us. It’s not our fault: it’s a reflex and an understandable one given the awful burden of useless knowledge most of us carry about. But it’s something you might want to bear in mind when you read the reviews of Room On Fire by the Strokes, a great record which sounds unmistakably like’The Strokes.
Now I’m bigger I’ve wasted a fair amount of time listening to old records, some of them by the bands Beloved Rock Band were compared to and found wanting. I liked hardly any of those particular records, as it happened. There are times — like when I’m listening to Room On Fire – that remembering any record for more than six months seems colossally stupid. Don’t do it! Throw it away! It’ll only spoil the other ones!
Room On Fire is a record where everything repeats itself anyhow — drums, keys, voice, all holding the song’s pulse steady as it motors on to the next one. When the Strokes’ songs stop doing things or pause for breath the Strokes’ hands keep tap-tap-tapping and strum-strum-strumming along: wind-up music. That’s what keeps the songs glued together while the band come up with a new hook, something which happens about every thirty seconds. Then they get bored and start coasting again, but their coasting is sexily inarticulate and moody. I used to think that by not saying anything at parties I was being mysterious but actually I was just being rude. But I thought that because I’d been to parties where quiet people had seemed really mysterious, I just didn’t realise how rare it was.
In Words And Music Paul Morley makes the distinction between artists like The Strokes, who are non-fiction, and artists he likes, who are science-fiction. I think that’s witty and intelligent and I know exactly what he means too but he’s wrong. The Strokes are crime fiction.
The Strokes should call their third album ‘Autopilot’ and make it sound that way too.
I was going to write a review of Room On Fire and put some of this stuff in it. I’m not going to bother: the Strokes are too straightforward to review well, as we will all no doubt find out soon enough.