Off Key with Eric D.

Eric D'Orazio

Since the release of “Last Nite” in 2001, critics have hailed The Strokes as the saviors of rock. Unlike anything seen around that time, the band displayed a nonchalant, somewhat new-wave image that seemed to strike a chord with all who were tired of the constant whining and prefabricated anger of nu-metal. In addition, the band had a distinct, rather indie sound that stood relatively reminiscent of early ’80s post-punk and subsequent new-wave.

So, being armed with such looks and talent, they went through the motions of being an up-and-coming band, releasing hit songs, going platinum with their first album, “Is This It,” and acquiring a fan base that today rivals those of longer-standing groups. Yet by 2003, The Strokes wanted to take their music in a new direction.

Having written a slew of new songs amid their numerous tours in 2002, the band had the intention of recording a second album as soon as possible, with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich at the helm. Though Godrich and the band eventually parted ways due to directional differences, the band pulled together and procured a tight set of songs, which they recorded quite quickly in early 2003. With “Is This It” producer Gordon Raphael behind the band, they came out with “Room On Fire,” a powerfully energized 11-song set that not only stands as moving as their first album, but in many ways a better carbon copy of it.

In similar form to “Is This It,” The Strokes’ new effort opens with its most moving song. Entitled “What Ever Happened?,” the song deals with the ever-recurring theme of the break-up, but in such a way that only The Strokes can explicate it. With by far his most heart-breaking vocals to date, singer Julian Casablancas proclaims in the first lyric, “I want to be forgotten and I don’t want to be reminded.”

Though backed by the band’s tried-and-true multi-guitar sound and Fab Moretti’s incredibly incessant drumming, the song simply comes across as being all but emotionally depraving. Nonetheless, “What Ever Happened?” is a Strokes classic in its own right, and opens the doors to an album filled with similar superior pieces of musical genius.

It should be noted that with the release of any album by The Strokes, there comes a blatantly awesome hit single to its credit. This time around, that top-notch hit arrives in the form of “12:51,” the “Room On Fire’s” fourth track. Besides depicting the average bedtime of any given college student, the song is, unto itself, the quintessential love song of 2003. Opening with the line, “Talk to me now I’m older,” and going through a Friday night of partying and finding out “Your folks are away now,” “12:51” is new found romance at its absolute finest. Driven by synthesized guitar riffs and more exceptional drum-work on Moretti’s part, it’s no wonder why the NME proclaimed the new single as being “the very reason The Strokes are the best band in a decade compressed into three short minutes.”

Unlike most albums nowadays, the most outstanding song on “Room On Fire” lies in its penultimate track, “The End Has No End.” Focusing on a relationship that just won’t come to a close despite the stupidity of a significant other, the song comes across as poignant and charming at the same time.

With Casablanca’s repetition of “The end has no end,” along with his plea, “Can’t you find some other guy?,” the song’s pent-up frustration is all but apparent, yet all but addictive. In addition, the use of more synth-guitars and a drum beat straight out of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” certainly makes the song even more memorable. Truth be told, “The End Has No End” is definitive Strokes, worthy of wordly praise.

If one thing can surely be said about The Strokes’ “Room On Fire,” it is that it really does remain different from the band’s debut. Though some aspects do come across as similar, such as its focus on love, dislike and partying, such is the case for most bands around, and hence holds little importance to comparing both records. In all honesty, the band’s first two albums play off one another quite well. It’s just that their sophomore effort sounds much more developed and agreeable than their first.

With the new album in mind, it is obvious that the Strokes have become tighter and stronger as a band and as friends, not to mention much sharper musically. Though two years ago they may have asked “Is this it?,” the truth is that with “Room On Fire,” it’s just the beginning.