Is This It turns 18 years old this week. And since we’re all adults now, let’s cut to the chase and say that The Strokes’ seminal debut defined what music would be at the turn of the century.
In July of 2001, the world hadn’t ended like we all thought it would, but it was fucked up and about to get worse. None of us were really certain what was next, but at least we knew we were going to have music .
Music, like all of history, tends to repeat itself. And as we entered a new millennium, Julien Casablancas, Albert Hammond Jr, Nick Valensi, Nikolai Fraituri and Fabrizo Moretti did one of the most modern yet age-old things a band could do: they rebooted rock and roll for a new generation. And we all followed suit.
From the get-go, The Strokes instilled their sound with a quality that is simultaneously familiar and futuristic. Critically, this is one of the greatest albums of all time. Personally, it changed everything I knew about modern music.
Eighteen years later, it remains a fully grown album of timeless ideas of how music should be. In my opinion, this album says everything about how its audience became adults themselves. That’s why we fucking LOVED it!
Like the Stones and Nirvana before them, The Strokes married uncompromising rock riffs and percussion with pop-accepted melodies and tempos. And it worked like a fucking charm, garnering them mainstream audiences, sizable radio play and serious record sales.
For an album of its success, there is an unabashed amount of rawness and “don’t give a shit” noise: humming tubes, fuzzed out bass lines, inaudible lyricism, a liberal amount of volume on snares and an basic disregard for starting, stopping or editing cymbals. It’s quite reminiscent of late-’70s punk and even early RCA recordings from the mid-’40s.
Julian Casablancas’ commiserative songwriting about youthful social engagements, lifestyles of the less than ordinary, and just sort of being a fucker, harked in an era of self-aware, commercially-produced social dissent. Ultimately, these aspects allowed Is This It to be very accessible to leather jacket wearing auditors of any generation.
Songs like “Someday” could have been mistaken for yesteryear’s hit. “Last Nite” is an outrageous yet common meta-biography for the average twenty-something. And for the first time in, well, this century, we all knew the deep cuts. Tracks like “Take It Or Leave It,” “Hard To Explain,” “Alone, Together” and “Barely Legal” prodded listeners to hear the entire story, and the sheer accomplishment of producing music that demands repeated listens gave those individuals a means to decipher what a “single” really was.
This album brought New York rock back to life, with Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs the first to follow. And history repeated itself once again as the West Coast bands made Britpop-inspired albums (“Mr. Brightside” by The Killers still runs numero uno in the U.K.), and U.K. bands like Arctic Monkeys began imitating what they heard in the U.S.
Ultimately, Is This It bred a legion of rock that spoke of emotional insubordination, mirroring the sociopolitical status quo that thus far has defined this century. Yet in all its grand euphemisms, there’s still a degree of optimism about this epoch, especially among the youth.
This album would tie together a city, a nation and a world with a strong notion of commonality in the 21st century. The end was in fact not nigh, but the beginning was barely here. And so when billions of people worldwide asked themselves Is This It?, The Strokes smirked, hit the record button, and replied, Yeah.
Listen to: “Last Nite,” “Soma,” “Take It Or Leave It”
Kiefer is a writer, musician and zealous record collector. He started hoarding vinyl because mp3s weren’t convenient enough, cassettes were too expensive, and he couldn’t turn a CD over. The soundtrack of his life is chronicled every week as #KiefersMusicMondays on Instagram (@key_fur). Currently residing in Lubbock, TX—home of Buddy Holly—he’s an avid music enthusiast by day and a mixologist by night, fighting the good fight for all things artistic. He started writing for MMC in 2019.