U.S. rock bands: to England and back
The British music press think the members of New York City's
The Strokes are some kinds of gods who will save rock and roll. The band's
debut record, Is This It?, has been available to the English for
months and just won the NME Album of the Year award. The album was released
in America only a few weeks ago, with a different cover and the British
hit "New York City Cops" was replaced with a new song in the
wake of the terrorist attacks.
One of Brit rock's most prominent figures, Noel Gallagher
of Oasis, declared Seattle's Black Rebel Motorcycle Club a.k.a. B.R.M.C.
his new favorite band about a year ago, and consequently, they've also
been featured in the headlines of the NME more often than Rolling Stone.
Both of these bands' videos display their retro style and
sound. "Last Nite," by the Strokes, looks like a classic TV
guest performance, while B.R.M.C.'s "Whatever Happened to My Rock
'n' Roll (Punk Song)" is a photo montage with some performance video.
Both are now hitting heavy rotation on M2.
Is This It? is an exceptional album, of which "Last
Nite" is the glowing centerpiece and melodic highlight. The Strokes
don't really sound like anyone else in the modern rock scene. They're
more of a throwback to the Sixties. They play simple rock and roll with
punching drums and a very noticeable rhythm guitar. Lead singer Julian
Casablancas sings through a device that distorts his vocals.
Songs like "The Modern Age," "Soma,"
and "Barely Legal" help make Is This It? a great record
that I play constantly. The songs do sound sort of the same, which is
the Strokes' biggest flaw. But the band's approach is refreshing, and
if they're not quite single-handedly saving rock and roll, they're definitely
fighting on the right side. "Last Nite" sticks out the most
because it's one of the catchiest rock songs of the year. "Someday"
is in a similar vein. The rockers "Hard to Explain" and "Take
It Or Leave It" are also standouts.
"Whatever Happened to My Rock 'n' Roll" is actually
the most atypical song on the B.R.M.C. album. The opening tracks "Love
Burns" and "Red Eyes And Tears" are better, and much more
representative of the album. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is a collection
of fuzzy, droning, slow rock n' roll songs four to six minutes long. The
trippier tracks on the Verve's 1997 smash Urban Hymns, like "Catching
the Butterfly," would fit in here perfectly. B.R.M.C. has a darker
feel and catchier choruses, and, though its highs aren't as high as the
Verve's, their album is superior.
The overblown epics that populate the middle of the album
may be the best. In "White Palms" the band sings about Jesus,
fills spaces between the guitar buzz with speaking voices much like those
that haunt Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and fades into an
acoustic coda. "As Sure As the Sun," and "Rifles"
are both amazing. Then they chill out starting with "Too Real"
and head for another, calmer bout with Christ in the album-ending "Salvation."
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Is This It? are the best debuts I've heard this year (other than the albums by Icelandic whale-pop crooners Sigur Rós and Scottish rockers Idlewild, which don't count because they were technically released before 2001). The British had them first. But you can have them too. Buy these albums.
The Strokes - Is This It? - 3.5 polar bears