By the time of the millennium, guitar music was flailing. The Strokes didn’t so much pick it up off the floor but rather thrashed around in the gutter a bit, and aside from the rhythmic brilliance that splashing about in the mire produced, they very importantly made it cool again. While a term like ‘cool’ might seem frivolous, there is far more depth to it than any cynics would care to accept.
It takes a keen eye on culture and a depth of originality to seize the seething passions of youth, thrive on naïve recklessness, colour it in the sound of the New York rock music that inspired you in the first place, and make the sort of art that usurps the status quo and spawns a new generation of its own.
Is This It rattled indie bars back to life, beginning with the fizzing of a fading out guitar, and the defibrillation of Fab Moretti’s daringly simple drumbeat. With euphonic guitars and snarling vocals that undoubtedly recalled the Velvet Underground of old, the band were the perfect tonic to enliven a hungover music scene in a swaggering declaration that the hair of the dog was the way to go, in a glowing revival of all that was best about the night before.
‘Is This It’ at 20: The Strokes’ influence in the words of the artists they inspired
It had been said a thousand times before them, but this was one of the rare occasions where it holds more than a grain of truth: they saved rock ‘n’ roll. And you don’t just have to take our word for it, when celebrating the 20th anniversary of the record, we spoke to Tom McFarland of the band Jungle who vouched: “You know what I will always take away from that album is the baseline on ‘Is This It’, you know when that comes in?
Adding: “That record for me, and Josh was one of those albums where it was probably the first time I’d ever bought a pair of Converse, some skinny jeans, and that album was one of the first records that made me feel like I belong somewhere. I think whenever I listen to that record, it’s that beautiful, nostalgic feeling of being really young, innocent, carefree and finding you’re feet as a person within society, and sort of understanding that your grasp on culture was something that was positive and fun, and that other people shared with you.”
However, by the time their third record came around, the weight of the indie world on their shoulders was beginning to make their knees buckle. Inner-band tensions and the strains of pressure and excesses were taking their toll. Fortunately, for fans, even amid this turmoil an amazing record was produced.
In retrospect, it was clear that parts II and III in their initial trilogy did not get the love they deserved. However, if there was a slight Achilles heel to First Impressions of Earth, it was perhaps that they had pulled away from their dirty underground production a bit too quickly and climbed into glossier tones. It is this very reason that makes this early demo of ‘You Only Live Once’ stand out.
With a more punky vibe than the finished product, it soars above. The raw energy of Is This It is very much in the mix, and it sounds like it could’ve been recorded in the bowels of the CBGB of old. What’s more, it features the air of ‘I’ll Try Anything Once’, the demo that still resides as one of the best songs the band ever wrote.
Sometimes a deep cut trumps the latter permutation that follows. ‘You Only Live Once’ is a fantastic single from The Strokes, but there are similar indie-rock classics lingering in their records that are more than capable of conquering it. The original piano dirge of ‘I’ll Try Anything Once’, however, is a wonder to behold and it is magnificent to hear it strongly in the mix of this demo.
‘I’ll Try Anything Once’ defines the inherent appeal of deep cuts in general. It stands out as a far more withdrawn and vulnerable song than the fresh indie joys that make it to First Impressions. With Nick Valensi tentatively tapping out a sort of mellowed melancholic melody on piano and Julian Casablancas purring out the best lyrics that he has ever written, the song almost seems fated to be shrouded in the ethereal darkness of demos where creativity quietly creeps into illuminated existence. Hearing the lingering ghost of such a beauty in yet another demo only adds to the magic.