The good people of New York, as the world has observed this month, know how to cinch the flow of their sarcasm and become sweet and serious when occasion demands. See Holden Caufield, Dave Letterman, and innumerable hard knocks played by Humphrey Bogart. Is This It (RCA, Oct. 9), the debut of the Strokes, a rock band composed of five young Manhattanites, is a gorgeous demonstration of that distinctive ability to flit at will from aloofness to tenderness.
In 11 mostly short, mostly fast rock songs about love and ennui, the Strokes Julian Casablancas 23, on vocals, Nick Valensi, 20, and Albert Hammond, Jr., 21, on guitar, Nikolai Fraiture, 22, on bass and Fabrisio Moretti, 21, on drums talk tough though the first verse and end up misty-eyed by the last chorus, in the process delivering some of the finer tunes this side of the 20th century. It's a formula that works on at least 10 of the songs; nobody has heard "When it Started," a track the band banged out in the studio the weekend of September 16 to replace "New York City Cops," a mildly insulting rave-up they had the good taste to remove in light of recent events.
Between its constantly shifting guitar rhythms, graceful bass lines and hoarse but seductive vocals, this record would be stunning if its lyrics reeked, which every once in a while they do. But the chorus on "How to Explain" is the cry of somebody on whom the wounds of teenage disorientation are still fresh: "I say the right thing but act the wrong way/ I like it right here but I cannot stay/ I'm watching TV, forget what I'm told/ That I am too young and they are too old."
It's high time we got a new band young enough to recall the details of adolescent suffering and talented enough to capture them in nuanced song. Let's hope all the well-deserved pats on the head these kids are getting from the rock press (four stars from Rolling Stone) and from Europe (their album has already debuted at #2 in the U.K.) doesn't make them too emotionally secure; they break down in the most magnificent way.