THE STROKES Is This It (Rough Trade)

This American quintet have been all over the NME like a rash this summer - in fact a quote from that journal is reprinted on the album's inner ("A band like The Strokes only comes along once in a lifetime. You should be grateful that they've come along in yours."). Happily, though, "Is This It" more than justifies the hype. It contains eleven scuzzy, fuzzy three-minute spitballs that hawk back to the likes of the Ramones, New York Dolls and Blondie, yet manage to make the whole confection sound thoroughly modern. And it's brilliant, especially bearing in mind that I've never had much affinity for the music of most of the aforementioned. Maybe the key element is The Strokes' ability to write tunes that leap from roof beam to roof beam, carpenters. Whatever, just about everything here is great, although single "The Modern Age" stands a head above due to familiarity, and the intro to the faux-rockabilly "Someday" always makes me grin. And it might make you grin too. And the fact that "Is This It" poses more questions than it answers (Why does Julian Casablancas spend the entire album sounding like he's singing through a paper and comb? Is the cover star actually a member of the band, as has been rumoured, thereby rendering the photo a clever sublimation of gender stereotyping, or is it just an affectionate Spinal Tap nod? Is guitarist Albert Hammond Jr really the progeny of that Albert Hammond, a topic their considerable press coverage doesn't appear to have broached, and if so does that make The Strokes the real Free Electric Band? I've compared the inner photo of Junior with that on the cover of Supposed Senior's "99 Miles From L.A." album, and I have to admit that there's more than a casual resemblance thing going on.) rather suggests that we're still only at the beginning of a brilliant career.

THE STROKES/ADAM GREEN/THE KBC Empress Ballroom, Blackpool 14 February 2006

Having arrived too late to catch The KBC (nothing to do with the similarly-monikered Jefferson Airplane spin-off band, at a guess; that would be a little too retro even for a Strokes support slot), it appears that Adam Green and his band are the joke Strokes. (Only later do I learn that he was/is a member of The Moldy Peaches, one of a flurry of bands caught in the vapour trail of the white-hot hype supernova that made seemingly made the very existence of The Strokes and The White Stripes headline news in summer 2001.) There is mime, there is lyrical comedy, there is music reminiscent of a kind of New York incarnation of The Presidents Of The United States Of America. There is also screaming of Shea Stadium proportions: it appears that The Kids are out in force tonight, and vocal with it. (Because they haven’t evolved into hipsters yet they don’t realise it’s not cool to be at the venue in time to see the support acts.) Heck, when the lights go up I feel like I’ve mistakenly walked into a Pete Doherty look-alike contest.

To elaborate lighting design based on the cover art of their recent “First Impressions Of Earth” album The Strokes take the stage, and proceed to unbundle example upon example of their scuzzy-but-upholstered trust fund garage rock. It’s competent, it’s undeniably appreciated by the capacity crowd, but it’s all kinda similar to be honest. It’s unusual for unfamiliar material to consistently provide an evening’s standout moments, but, with my copy of “First Impressions Of Earth” sitting, unheard, somewhere between Florida and my house at the moment, the Glitter Band stomp, stolen Duane Eddy riffs and synth-pop balladry (the latter being the “Here’s your opportunity to visit the bar” moment, it appears) provided not unwelcome relief from the manicured air of CBGBs cool that pervaded everything else they played. They certainly gave good value for the considerable quantity of rock dollars they extracted from each of us: almost everything from their near-classic “Is This It” debut received a bounce-tastic airing. (Best not mention anything about the handful of nails-on-blackboard guitar solos that peppered the set, though…whoops, too late.) This being my first visit to the Empress Ballroom, I have to mention what a lovely venue it is, blessed with surprisingly commendable acoustics given that hosting rock concerts is some way from its original purpose in life. As lead Stroke Julian Casablancas was moved to comment whilst contemplating its ornate interior, “It’s like a cake!” And, like the Strokes live experience, cake can be tasty by the slice but an entire meal of it might leave you desperately craving some variety.