12 Years Ago: The Strokes’ ‘Is This It’ Album Released
The Strokes' ‘Is This It’ is one of the most important releases of the past 20 years. And in true rock 'n' roll fashion, it arrived a little late.
It was originally supposed to come out on Sept. 25, 2001 -- and we all know what happened just 14 days earlier. So the record company pushed the release date back to Oct. 9 -- 12 years ago today. Of the scads of bands that have helped fans rediscover rock 'n' roll over the years, this New York City crew did it in the least flashy, most nonchalant sort of manner. Like Jack Torrance in ‘The Shining,’ the Strokes, it seemed, had always been here. Remember when the video for lead single ‘Last Nite’ hit MTV2? It was shot to look like the fivesome was playing on a ’70s variety show, and if you’d never heard of them, you might have been tricked into thinking they were some vintage group making a comeback. Ah, the power of marketing.
Speaking of which, had American audiences been allowed to buy the album’s original cover, they would’ve thought it had been stripped right out of the five-cent bin at the local second-hand record shop. But alas, it didn’t make it past the censors. The initial sleeve featured a woman’s black-leather-gloved hand resting on her naked ass, the curve of her private parts just out of view. (The version U.S. fans got featured an odd blue-on-orange stained glass pattern -- which looked sort of like frozen spit-up on a windshield.)
The album starts off with the sound of a tape frantically rewinding, a nod to the retro-rock vibe that set it apart from the corporate crap-rock glutting radio at the time. Creed, P.O.D., 3 Doors Down: You name it, it sucked. When the first song kicks in, you get Black Flag drums, Ramones bass, soaring Pixies guitars (swiped from ‘Where Is My Mind?’) and guitar leads reminiscent of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell.
And then, of course, there's the fuzz-box baritone croon of lead singer Julian Casablancas, who would emerge as one of the defining vocalists of the 2000s. Others would follow -- Kings of Leon, Jet, the Killers -- but few would be as instantly influential.
In a sense, the Strokes kicked off their own retro-rock movement, and the critical praise was swift and positive. Music writers dug the old-timey sounding band -- especially given all the day's saccharine pop and daddy-hating cock-rock. And even in the post-9/11 world, where images of the Twin Towers falling played just about every hour on the hour for the next several months, American fans bought up copies, pushing it all the way to No. 33 on the Billboard 200.
Not surprisingly, U.K. fans, who had had the album more than a month earlier (Aug. 27), responded a lot more favorably, sending 'Is This It' to No. 2 on the charts. The album also spawned three singles: the aforementioned ‘Last Nite,’ which reached No. 5 on the U.S. Modern Rock charts, and the earworms ‘Someday’ and ‘Hard to Explain,’ which hit No. 17 and No. 27, respectively. These weren't Creed numbers, but the tide was shifting.