Remember when everyone thought the world was going to end when the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000? Like every year, when everyone shouted "Happy New Year," nothing changed. The earth was still spinning and human life continued to exist as normal. That being said, many music critics believed that something else was doomed to end that year: Rock Music.
In a time of boyband rivalries and low-rise jeans, it was hard to imagine listening to anything but the early 2000's candy-coated pop that seeped out from millions of car radios, making people think that rock music was dead and gone. After Grunge had it's time in the 90's, many found the rock world to be out of ideas. But by the grace of the almighty music Gods, five friends out of New York decided it was time to change that. In July of 2001, The Strokes released their debut album Is This It, sparking the power of rock music in modern society. Along with their equally as important sophomore release Room on Fire, The Strokes truly made their mark on the early 2000's, bringing rock back.
It all began at Lycée Français de New York where lead singer Julian Casablancas befriended eventual Strokes bassist Nikolai Fraiture. At age 14, Casablancas was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland, where he and guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. met. Back in New York, the band was complete with guitarist Nick Valensi and drummer Fabrizio Moretti, who met Casablancas while attending Dwight School. It's a good thing Casablancas switched schools so often, otherwise The Strokes may have never been formed. By the late 90's, the band was in full swing, performing at various underground Manhattan locations full of people who were hungry for something new.
When their first project The Modern Age EP was sent out to Rough Trade Records in the UK, it started the largest bidding war amongst record labels for a rock record in years, furthering the band's effect on the public's interest in modern day rock music. The EP was just a glimpse of what The Strokes had in store and countless of labels wanted to be a part of it. Eventually, their first release came in the form of a free mp3 download of their most popular track to date, "Last Nite."
In October of 2001, the band's debut album Is This It was finally released on RCA Records. In true rock and roll fashion, the release didn't go without controversy. The original album art featured a risqué black-and-white photo of a nude woman's profile, with a black leather glove resting on her very-lower back. It was edgy and different, which of course meant it wasn't allowed to be sold in US stores. Instead, an alternative version with a blue and yellow photo of particle collisions from the Big European Bubble Chamber was released instead. Still interesting, yet way less rock and roll.
Controversy only continued when it came down to the actual music, specifically Casablancas' lyrics. After reviewing the track "New York City Cops," RCA believed the lyrical content to be too insensitive in relation to the September 11 attacks that occurred just a month before the release. Instead, "When It Started" replaced the controversial track, earning the album an a-okay from American distributors.
Despite the rocky start, Is This It was extremely critically acclaimed, earning top scores from various music publications. On top of that, it was named best album of 2001 by Entertainment Weekly and TIME. It was incredibly forward thinking, discussing themes of sex on tracks like "Barely Legal" and "Alone, Together," as well as the harsh realities of drugs on "Soma." With that being said, there's something undeniably timeless about Is This It, with it's raw production and uninhibited energy. By their early twenties, The Strokes were rock's biggest newcomers, creating punchy and enthusiastic music with unlimited potential and a fanbase eager to see what comes next.
What came next was their sophomore release Room on Fire. Ending the tour of their first album feeling inspired, the band immediately went back to recording. With the 2003 release, The Strokes continued their domination of the rock-scene, reaching number two on the UK charts and number four on the Billboard 200. The album bore one of their most popular songs with almost 100 million listens on Spotify, "Reptilia."
While Room on Fire is without a doubt a cleaner project than Is This It, it didn't lose what made the Strokes unique: Personality. This comes down to the production, which went through quite a transition period. Originally, the band hired a new producer for Room on Fire. However, after listening to the initial recordings, the band found the production to be lifeless and too safe. They returned back to their roots, rehiring Is This It producer Gordon Raphael.
Room on Fire took the original format of Is This It and polished it. The band knew what worked for them, and presented listeners with a more mature and self assured The Strokes. Their music continued to be uniquely authentic, which was admirable for a time when frosted tips was an acceptable hairstyle. With only three months of studio time for the album, Room on Fire was an impressive addition to The Strokes' discography, both thrilling and catchy. The band even began to gain mainstream popularity when they landed a spot performing standout tracks including "Reptilia" and "I Can't Win" on Conan.
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