Hotly-anticipated second album from New York's finest
The Strokes landed in 2001 with an idea so simple it felt revolutionary. They would tunnel to the very heart of a song and deliver just its tuneful, passionate core. Musical frills and conceptual self-indulgence were eschewed in favour of lean, devotional compositions. The reference points were plain for all, but a fierce and throaty delivery dominated. And while the songs on Is This It were all very short, they were also uncommonly good.
Room On Fire doesn’t mess with that winning formula. There are once again 11 concise, usually thrilling songs filled with bewilderment, romance and a sense of climactic payback. The influences are harder to trace and the tone is more uniform?these songs sound like a batch rather than postcards sent from different eras?but The Strokes have been smart enough to hone the original blueprint rather than enlarge their brief. There are no strings. There is no dance element. Producer Gordon Raphael has instead busied himself with beefing up the thrusting guitars, while Julian Casablancas has matured into an anomaly: a white rock singer with the rich, emotional timbre of soul.
His remarkable performance enlivens even the album’s most underwhelming passages. “Automatic Stop” and “Between Love And Hate” sound as undernourished as early-’80s British indie missionaries (specifically the Postcard label, home to Josef K and Orange Juice), yet Casablancas’ performance imbues each with a visceral longing. On the album’s highlights, the sweetly-pitched soul swing of “Under Control” (an unquestionable hit) and “Reptilia” (a frothy descendant of “Take It Or Leave It”), his voice cracks with a pleading melancholy that’s irresistible. The sound throughout is of a man breaking his heart to tell you the truth.
He snaps the album shut with a barked “I’ll be right back” on the “Last Nite”-a-like “I Can’t Win”, and it’s a promise he needs to fulfill. Room On Fire leaves the impression of a bridging album between two exciting places. It will not conquer new hearts and minds. It will not be a staple in bars in rural outposts. Rather, it is well described by its title. It is an album to set minds aflame in bedrooms at night, an album that clears the air before dawn. What they wake up with next is, perhaps, more interesting.