The acclaim that follows The Strokes’ monster debut LP Is This It truly is old hat at this point. With 20 years of separation and hundreds of indie bands that have followed in its wake, there aren’t any descriptors left to throw onto the band’s first album: masterstroke, work of genius, massively influential, yadda yadda yadda.
The album became so popular in such a short amount of time that it also quickly became the albatross that hung around the band’s collective necks. A quick return to the studio attempted to capture the magic that was still surrounding the band in their early years. The follow-up, Room On Fire, features less of a lo-fi sound and a more complete embrace of the twin-guitar dynamic between Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr.
There is a small but vocal contingent of fans and critics who prefer the more refined sounds of Room on Fire. That group seems to be led by none other than Julian Casablancas himself. While being interviewed by Rolling Stone in 2014, Casablancas explained the connection between the two albums and why he prefers the sounds on Room on Fire.
“I wanted to finish the Is This It? thought; even when we were doing it, I always thought it was part two [of Is This It],” Casablancas shared. “I remember when we started ‘Reptilia’ and ‘The End Has No End,’ I was like, ‘This is the new vibe.’ I think we always felt like we were in jeopardy. When we did Room on Fire, things were established, but things were internally, at least from my perspective, not healthy.”
That last part was pretty easy to see from the outside: Casablancas discusses his own extreme alcohol use throughout the early years of The Strokes in the Rolling Stone feature. Other band members were struggling with their own addictions as well, compounded by expectations and hype that surrounded the band at every turn. With nowhere to go but down, The Strokes opted to fight the established sound that had made them stars.
These days, The Strokes don’t have to actively fight against Is This It anymore. With the success of 2020’s The New Abnormal, a new chapter has begun for America’s premier kings of indie rock. Is This Is isn’t the ball and chain that it used to be, but for those who have been closest to it over the past two decades, maybe it’s time to take a note from Casablancas and pledge allegiance to the band’s second masterpiece, Room on Fire.