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    The Strokes:

    First Impressions of Earth

    Tue, 17 Jan 2006 09:29:44

    Album Reviews: First Impressions of Earth by The Strokes

    Julian Casablancas doesn't have much to say, and he's upfront about it on his band's third album. "I've got nothing to say," he sings on the droning "Ask Me Anything." Come again? He continues: "I've got nothing to say / I've got nothing to say / I've got to nothing to say."

    Whatever his intent, there is little on First Impressions of Earth that contradicts a straight reading of this manta. And yet there are circles of contradiction that lead a critical listener down a rabbit hole with The Strokes. Is it missing the point to criticize the lyrical failings of The Strokes? Few fans, after all, seem to care that James Blunt writes embarrassingly juvenile lyrics; in pop music, pretty presentation is going to beat literature every time. Maybe that should be the same standard to which The Strokes are held. They are, after all, a good pop-rock band -- seldom great, but just as seldom bad.

    On the other hand, Casablancas spends half of his songwriting time on First Impressions all but begging to be treated as something more than a one-trick retro pony. The famously sedated-sounding singer flashes a sense of humor with song titles like "Fear of Sleep" and "15 Minutes." The former begins riding on a typically sharp Strokes riff, but builds into a rafters-rattling climatic chorus that is reminiscent of U2, with Casablancas indeed sounding wide awake in America as he wails "You're no fun, you're no fun!" It's a moment of real emotional connection, even in the reliably vague context of the rest of the lyrics, and it's also one of the many signs that The Strokes are still trying to expand their sound.

    Another rabbit hole is the chicken-or-egg relationship between The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand. At times, as on "On the Other Side," it seems that Casablancas is cribbing directly from the playbook of Franz's rhythm section. And yet Franz Ferdinand rode into the limelight on a Strokes-drawn carriage, so perhaps some artistic liberties are perfectly acceptable.

    The band's strongest suit remains their guitar interplay, and instantly infectious riffs litter First Impressions. But their forays into lower-tempo songs ("Evening Sun") are hindered by heavy-handedness and lethargy. Casablancas is becoming more versatile, even if he doesn't have the power or range for raw nerve displays like "Vision of Division." He shines brightest on the standout "Heart In A Cage," but is generally still best when playing cool and detached. He and his bandmates should be commended for not lapsing into complacency -- and subsequent surefire irrelevancy -- but they still haven't found the right "next move." -- Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert

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