The return of The Strokes could not come at a better time. The backlash against ‘NME indie’ has begun and art rock has become as banal as its name promises.
It makes a nice change then to go back to how it all started: the angular guitars and thriftstore fashion sense that now seem ubiquitous were popularised by the emergence of Is This It in 2001.
First Impressions of Earth is perhaps the band’s first real attempt at a departure from the original template. The key change is that The Strokes have lost their strict tightness, which is a mixed blessing. Let’s not go over the top here, this is no The Second Coming. However, it is a whopping 55 minutes, containing three more tracks than their two previous efforts. The result is dreaded filler, a word never before associated with this band. Fear of Sleep is crying out for a watertight chorus but ends up wallowing, whilst Killing Lies never takes off as it promises.
However, the relaxed style is worth it purely for Julian Casablancas’ singing. Always a wannabe Tony Bennett in tight jeans, he has developed into a full-on lounge singer. Ask Me Anything is essentially a solo track, with Casablancas crooning in a lazy drawl over an organ riff with minimal percussion and guitar. It is a radical departure and also a huge risk by the band, but is pulled off and provides a perfect middle mark for the album.
The remainder of the album is an extension of the development made on Room on Fire. When Casablancas steps back from the forefront, Nikolai Fraiture’s bass proves the driving force behind many of the songs, especially the first single, Juicebox, which rattles along at a frenetic pace. Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr’s guitar playing has once again come on leaps and bounds, their flourishes framing the vocals and spiralling around the rhythm section.
Overall the new additions more than make up for what’s been left out. On this form, we won’t begrudge them for Bloc Party.
Reviewed by Toby Green