LTTP: The Strokes - 'Room On Fire'

The Strokes released the album Is This It? back in 2001 and it almost single-handedly revived the modern rock scene. The smash-hit album came after a decade when the gloomy Smashing Pumpkins had risen to fame and imitators were multiplying at a frequent pace. Critics lauded the album as a back-to-the-basics approach to the rock, commended its primary aim to just make fun songs, and congratulated The Strokes for giving the genre the kick in the pants it needed.

Now I only listened to Is This It? in its entirety a few years ago because I was fairly young when it originally came out and it was nothing short of amazing. Nearly all of the songs hit that super fun rocking out feel the classics did and the album is destined to go up there with the greatest. But what about their next album?

Well I seemed to miss that one, and that is why I am bringing it up today. The Strokes' follow up to their wildly successful debut was Room On Fire in 2003 and it built on top of the (already flawless) formula the Brooklyn-based rock band used previously. The result? An even more approachable album than the first filled with some stellar production and some of the most fun rock songs I have ever heard.

Opener “Whatever Happened?” kicks off the album in a similar fashion as the 2001 debut hit, but it is this track that also defines how the album will sound different. Gone is the monotoned rock riffs of Is This It? and in its place is a powerfully dynamic sound where the mellow guitar and drum rhythms pop to life and take center stage.

Julian Casablancas' voice once again is another unique trademark of the band; raspy, painful, and the perfect acquaintance to the special kind of rock The Strokes make. The lead singer delivers on the second track, “Reptilia”, in stunning fashion. The fast-in-a-slow-way feel of the track is stimulating and infectiously catchy—definitely one of the best tracks on the album. The following track, “Automatic Stop” is less catchy, but feels like a slightly edgier version of “Reptilia” due to its clever lyrics. But the track follows a similar sound as “Reptilia” and somewhat fails to stand out in comparison.

While the previous songs all followed a similar sound and ideal as their debut album. On “12:51” all of that changes. It is a completely reworking of the band's previous style. The song has some shades of “Last Nite” in the chorus, but aside from that the simple addition of a keyboard to create a 'rhythm path' of sorts is almost mind-blowing to the original formula. The next track implements a similar technique and “You Talk Way Too Much” is more of a combination of “12:51” and “Last Nite”.

Things slow down a bit for “Between Love & Hate”, a mellow rock song that is probably the weakest out of the album. The song flows nicely until the unusual solo which makes an abrupt departure from the rest of the song and sounds just a bit off. “Meet Me In The Bathroom” speeds up once again and strikes a similar sound as “Take It Or Leave It” from Is This It?

Where “Between Love & Hate” failed, “Under Control” rises. The song is slower than the previously mentioned track and is also much more likable due to its easy-flowing lyrics in almost perfect harmony with the rhythm. The song borrows from 60s rock more than anything and sounds fairly similar to a Beach Boys song, just without the sing-along chorus. “Under Control” is yet another example of The Strokes really trying to branch out in terms of style on this album.

Things speed up again with the gem “The Way It Is” and the track is also fairly experimental. Instead of a live drumset being used, it is easy to tell they attempted to use an electronic drum synthesizer. The song also makes use of a keyboard in a similar way as “12:51” and to great effect. While not as catchy as some others, “The Way It Is” can easily be recommended to anyone who enjoyed the first album.

“The End Has No End” maintains the current pace and is yet another strong track off the album. While it does get a bit repetitive, it is still commendable for its further use of experimental techniques. Finally, Room On Fire comes to a close with the stellar “I Can't Win”. This song is easily one of the best tracks on the album and kind of presses the 'reset' button by going back to The Strokes' signature sound. “I Can't Win” hits a near-perfect rhythm and once again the lyrics are synced effortlessly. But the best part? Right when you think the song is about to jump up to a new level, it stops.

And just like that the listener is compelled to listen to the entire album again. Room On Fire was a strong follow up to the genre-defining debut album and proved The Strokes were not just a fling. These boys were right on the target of what makes good rock and, aside from a few missteps, they diversified their sound and became a force to be reckoned with.

So, where are they now? In the currently boring and tedious state of rock, the genre needs another band like The Strokes. The New York rock band attempted to move into the sub-genre of alternative rock with their third album, First Impressions of Earth. While the album received good reviews from critics, it received lukewarm feelings from fans. Since then the band has nearly fallen off the face of the Earth, taking a 3-year hiatus during which the members went off into side projects.

There is a glimmer of hope, though—the band has acknowledged that work on their fourth album had began since January. Sadly, there is still no firm release date. Hearing albums like Room On Fire make me even more depressed with some of the rock music being released nowadays. I am ready to have fun with rock again and I hope The Strokes can get that memo.

LTTP stands for “Late To The Party” and in this feature I will go back to certain things I missed when they were released or popular and give my current impressions.


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