Concise, intense and self-confident, The Stroke's debut album pleased critics and thrilled fans. On the day of its 20th anniversary, Gemma Cockrell revisits Is This It for the first new instalment of The Mic’s much-loved series Classics Revisited.
Despite being released a month earlier in Australia, British fans had to make do with just a few selected preview tracks released prior to the album’s release – The Modern Age, Last Nite, and Barely Legal. We had to wait an entire month longer before we could listen to Is This It in its full glory when it finally arrived, twenty years ago to the day, on 27th August 2001, courtesy of Rough Trade Records.
Pundits found Is This It a very difficult album to pin down; some referred to it as ‘post-punk revival’, whilst others termed it ‘garage-rock revival’. Some simply labelled it ‘indie-rock’. Regardless of how the album was defined, it received widespread critical acclaim, from publications such as Rolling Stone who called it “the stuff of which legends are made”, and NME crowned it their best album of 2001. The album also received phenomenal commercial success, entering the UK charts at number two, and the US Billboard charts at number 74.
"They relied on classic rock-and-roll; no sound effects, no samples, no programmed beats"
Perhaps one of the most discussed aspects of the album is its infamous cover. It features a very suggestive photograph of a nude woman which proved controversial due to its explicit nature, even leading to it being replaced with a different cover in the US. However, let’s not dwell on the cover art – instead, let’s talk about the music. The overarching theme of the album is the life and relationships of young people in New York City, with Julian Casablancas covering topics of sex (Alone, Together), consent (Barely Legal) and drugs (Soma) in his renowned, drawling conversational tone.
The Strokes took a somewhat simplistic approach to the instrumentals for the album in comparison to other bands who were recording music at the time. They relied on classic rock-and-roll. No sound effects, no samples, no programmed beats. Just five guys in a room, recording themselves playing their instruments together until they got that perfect final take. Their producer , Gordon Raphael, described The Strokes as “a band from the past that took a time trip into the future to make their record,” and as summarised by guitarist Nick Valensi, the album contains "no gimmicks, no tricks" to try to get the listener to like it. But yet, everyone did like it.
"The Strokes’ debut has defined both the sound and appearance of modern rock bands over the past two decades"
The influence that Is This It had on the rock industry following its release was undeniably enormous. To this day, it is near impossible to go to an indie club without at least hearing the album’s most well-known track, Last Nite. It seems unlikely that bands such as The Libertines, Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys, who evidently took great influence from The Strokes, would exist, much less be as successful, without Is This It. The Strokes’ debut is an album that has defined both the sound and appearance of modern rock bands over the past two decades, and for that, The Strokes deserve our utmost gratitude.
Written by: Gemma Cockrell
Edited by: Joe Hughes