Formed in 1998, New York garage rock revivalists The Strokes were a phenomenon even before the release of their debut full length album Is This It in 2001.
They were at the centre of a major label bidding war, and UK music journalists were falling over each other to proclaim them the saviours of guitar music, so even music fans who hadn’t heard them were foaming at the mouth in anticipation of this Next Big Thing.
A couple of decades down the line the hype has melted away, and The Strokes have rode out that crazy early period to cement themselves as one of the definitive bands of the millennium, still putting out albums to great acclaim and still filling arenas around the world.
It’s been interesting to see their early mix of wiry New York punk topped by vocalist Julian Casablancas’ curled-lip slacker drawl morph towards more sun-kissed, electro-pop over the years. But which selection from their catalogue is the strongest? Let's dive in...
6) Comedown Machine (2013)
The lack of promotion for The Strokes' fifth album, with the band insisting upon a complete media blackout, surely played a part in making this the least commercially successful album of their career.
Comedown Machine peaked at number 10 in the UK, their only album to chart outside of the top 3, and if it passed you by at the time then don’t worry, as it’s far from essential.
Whilst this is one of the band’s broadest efforts, with the Duran Duran-style pop of opener Tap Out followed immediately by All the Time, a song that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Foo Fighters setlist, it’s not always successful. Highlights such as the swirling 80’s Comedown Machine are counterbalanced by ponderous non-events like Slow Animals.
Credit to The Strokes for trying something new-ish, but there is too much filler here.
5) The New Abnormal (2020)
That The New Abnormal won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2021 says more about that organisation's rather bizarre relationship with rock music, rather than the quality of the record.
There’s plenty that is enjoyable on The Strokes sixth album, but there are some head scratching, bizarre choices as well. The main one being the fact that, over the nine songs here, so many of them are stretched to an exhausting breaking point. Sometimes this is fine - Eternal Summer is the lengthiest effort here but is still a sun-kissed joy - but none of The Adults are Talking, At the Door, Not the Same Anymore or Ode to the Mets can justify going on past the five-minute mark.
With Brookyln Bridge to Chorus and the classic Strokes sound of Bad Decisions, The New Abnormal has tunes here that stands up to their finest work, but overall this is a too up-and-down to really be considered one of their best.
4) First Impressions of Earth (2006)
The riff to the opening song might quite confusingly sound like In Too Deep by Sum 41, but First Impressions of Earth improves quite a bit after that.
The 70’s cop show chug of Juicebox is absolutely brilliant, with Casablancas sounding as raw as he ever would, the tippy-toe hi-hats and lumbering bass of On the Other Side is great, Electricityscape manages to marry post-punk and stadium hard rock quite magnificently and 15 Minutes is a dreamy nursery rhyme made by the coolest people ever to sing a nursery rhyme before it descends into punk rock territory.
On the down side, as if sounding like Sum 41 wasn't bad enough, the hook to Razorblade is way too close to Barry Manilow’s Mandy for comfort.
Buy First Impressions of Earth
3) Room on Fire (2003)
So, how exactly do you follow one of the most talked about and influential debut albums of the last decade? Make it again and make sure the songs are as strong as they were last time? It’s not the worst strategy, and The Strokes got damn close to doing exactly that.
To say that Room on Fire is completely identical to This is It would be to do it something of a disservice - the production is clearly beefier, with Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi’s guitars certainly sounding fatter than they did previously - but ultimately the sonic approach was the same.
Luckily for The Strokes, they still had a bunch of excellent songs in that mould for their second album, with the ever-shifting tempo of You Talk Way Too Much, the relentless driving threat of Meet Me in the Bathroom and the dreamy, throbbing bounce of The End Has No End all equals of anything they had done before. The highlight was also the big single; Reptilla had all the strut, snarl and swagger of the band at their best, and has gone on to become one of their most definitive songs.
2) Angles (2011)
It’s ironic that all the chat coming from The Strokes camp before the release of their fourth record suggested that it would be a return to the stripped-back sound of their debut, and yet the synth and MIDI samples the band ended up experimenting with are Angles' most essential elements. And the elements that make this record such a success.
This is the first time The Strokes really employed the slinky, art-pop of latter-period Talking Heads and fully hit the bullseye. As such, Angles is unquestionably the most underrated album in the band’s back catalogue, and we’re happy to give it the props it rarely receives with a silver medal here.
Opener Machu Picchu is one of their very best songs, a hip-shaking instantaneous gem of a song, and it’s so good that the rest of Angles has to work its bollocks off to keep up. It often does though; Two Kinds of Happiness is Springsteen and The Cure heavy petting, Games sounds like Bis if they only listened to The Velvet Underground, You’re So Right is a fantastically detached homage to Krautrock and Metabolism is manic enough to recall Sparks. A brilliant return to The Strokes' very, very best form.
1) Is This It (2001)
One of the most overly hyped, anticipated and talked-up debut albums in living memory.
It seemed almost impossible that The Strokes could live up to the hysterical (in both the formal and informal meaning of the word) press coverage that came their way prior to the release of Is This It. But while the New York quintet might not have gatecrashed into rock n' roll's all-time A-list the way almost every music magazine predicted they would, their debut album could go toe to toe with pretty much any you care to mention.
Is This It may well have inspired some terrible copycats in its aftermath, but the pure, distilled hit of garage rock cool you get from Soma’s Velvet Underground worship, the choppy Television vibes of The Modern Age, the driving disco rock of Hard to Explain and the album's big hit Last Nite are absolutely undeniable.
Is This It ends on what might well be the best song in The Strokes' entire back catalogue, the siren punk of Take It or Leave It, with Julian Casablancas tearing at his vocal cords at the song's climax. Two decades on, Is This It still sounds as good as everyone said at the time.