New Yorkers who’ve spent the past 30 years mourning the demise of the Velvet Underground – that’s everybody, right? – were moved nearly to tears this year by the rise of the Strokes. Here was a Manhattan band that evoked the Velvets’ raw melodic grandeur and also their distinctive New York state of mind.
Skeptics were suspicious at first: Four of the band’s five members came from Swiss boarding schools and Upper East Side prep factories, and singer and songwriter Julian Casablancas is the son of Elite Model Management founder John Casablancas. But, hey, the Velvets had a model singing on their first album, right? And on the evidence of their debut album, Is This It, the Strokes are very much for real. And very, very New York.
As a singer, Casablancas bears a striking resemblance to Lou Reed. He may not have the deadpan wit with which Reed surveyed the rich and grotty scenes of sixties Manhattan, but he’s alert to the timeless throb of the city, and his best lines have the overheard quality of late-night loft-party babble (“I wanna steal your innocence”). And, as with Reed, his New Yorker’s ambivalence can be suddenly, unexpectedly touching: “It hurts to say, but I want you to stay … sometimes, sometimes.” The band has the straight-out-of-the-amps momentum of later punk pioneers like Television, and Fabrizio Moretti contributes the most unassumingly effective drum-whapping since Tommy Ramone.
The Strokes’ album was recorded in the East Village, and it sounds it. There’s a moment of unerased resonance at the end of “The Modern Age” in which you can not only hear the low-budget studio but almost picture it, as cramped as the funkholes where the Velvets once recorded. In much the same way that the New York punks of 1976 were reacting against the studio bloat of mainstream rock, the Strokes are turning away from the synthetic production style so popular today. May this refreshing approach prosper, along with the Strokes themselves, and the new world-beating New York scene one can’t help but hope they herald.