Throwback Thursday: Is This It by The Strokes



Is This It – North American Cover

Joshua Berk, Arts and Entertainment

When New York rock band The Strokes released their debut album in 2001, the city was losing its reputation as the birthplace of America’s great rock pioneers. Radio was being dominated by West Coast bands with grunge and post-grunge until the Strokes released Is This It. Vintage swagger, as well as expertly crafted songs, call back to the stylistic and musical approach of New York legends like The Ramones, Television, and The Velvet Underground. Everything about The Strokes is the Big Apple to the core. The band quickly took the world by storm and immediately left their mark, resulting in never-ending critical praise and a successful career spanning three decades.

On the opening track Is This It, steady drums, a killer bassline, and two swirling guitars surround singer Julian Casablancas as he laments the life he chose for himself with enough existentialism to draw any teenager in. One of the central themes of Is This It is Julian’s relationship problems, and only a few tracks later he is embracing his playboy persona on Last Nite. Energetic drums pound away as Julian shamelessly wears his crown as “king of guys you don’t want dating your daughter.” The song Someday shows a surprising side of Julian as he warns his love interest about the difficulties that come from dating someone like him, eventually coming to the decision that something needs to change in his life before he can be happy. Drug references littered around the album on tracks like The Modern Age and Soma further emphasize the dark side of big city life depicted in this album. 

As good of a frontman as Julian Casablancas is, ignoring the other members would be a huge disservice to The Strokes because The Strokes are much more than their charming frontman. Knockout duo Nick Valensi on lead guitar and Albert Hammond Jr. on rhythm give the band their signature sound. Fabrizio Moretti brings unique and exciting energy on the drums, and Nikolai Fraiture creates some of the catchiest bass lines ever recorded. Each member is as much a part of the band as Julian and for good reason. Arguably the most technically skilled player, Nick Valensi never misses the chance to show off his top-notch musicianship. The drummer Fabrizio Moretti rarely takes the spotlight, but songs like Trying Your Luck and Someday go to show that the best players are not always the flashiest. Even though he rarely plays lead, Albert Hammond Jr. is to thank for some of the catchiest guitar parts on the project. Last but certainly not least, bassist Nikolai Fraiture steals the show on the title track and deserves to be recognized along with greats such as Paul McCartney and Krist Novoselic. There is strong chemistry between members considering they were friends in school before ever starting the band. On tracks like The Modern Age, it becomes impossible to pick a star because each member works off of one another flawlessly. 

To say there was nothing like Is This It at its time of release would be wrong. Albums like Marquee Moon and Funhouse have been around since the 70s and share a sound and style similar to Is This It. No, there was nothing new about Is This It except the band behind it, which was exactly what was needed. Rather than simply emulating a band like The Stooges, The Strokes picked and pulled the most relevant parts of their predecessors and compiled it into a single New York time capsule. As we enter a new decade, I encourage you to take a step back in time and experience the most definitive piece of 2000s culture that New York has to offer. I promise it still holds up.