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The Strokes: Room On Fire


The Strokes

Album: Room On Fire
Label: RCA

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"Every song had to be a step forward," Julian Casablancas has said of the mindset behind his band's second album, Room On Fire. Seldom has the word "step" sounded so much like hyperbole. On first listen, The Strokes' members sound as if they've surrendered to the massive pressure of following up their rapturously embraced debut Is This It by simply making the record again. The vibe certainly remains the same, capturing a steamy, gin-soaked, New York 4 a.m. moment when cool reserve meets unavoidable anxiety. Still, a few subtle changes differentiate one album from the other in a blind taste test. Some reggae rhythms creep into Room On Fire, as does a Cars-inspired keyboard line, although the band creates the latter with filtered guitars. Those aren't so much steps forward as further examples of The Strokes' ability to melt its favorite records into its own. But for all the group's varied tastes, there's still no mistaking a Strokes song for anyone else's. The tempos remain more or less the same, Casablancas tackles each vocal with the same lightly distorted dispassion, the rest of the band practices a lockstep chemistry, and it's all over in roughly three minutes. Lyrically, Room On Fire is hung up on the idea of failure, and given the anticipation attached to every move the band makes, the topic seems almost unavoidable: From the beginning, The Strokes never comfortably wore the "savior of rock 'n' roll" crown. What the group does best–turning out the kind of catchy, charged, Velvets 'n' punk-inspired guitar pop that stands up to one listen after another–is more modest, though no less impressive. On Room On Fire, the band has the good sense to do what it does best and leave listeners wanting more, ending the album on an inconclusive note just past the half-hour mark. If what comes next is still more of the same, that might be okay, too.