I decided to wait a few months and let the hype machine die out before listening to The Strokes recently released Room on Fire. Here are my findings: On first listen, it sounds like an album that you' really like, but you already listened to it about 400 times so you don't really want to listen to it anymore, which is just how their debut, Is This It, sounded too. It's as though they somehow extracted the glands of Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Rick Ocasek and David Bowie and made a Calvin Klein unisex fragrance called "Rock." Everyone who smells it gets that feeling like they want to have crazy sex with really hot-'n'-skinny chicks who don't shave their armpits, or really hot-'n'-skinny hairless boys with bad posture, and they don't know why, nor do they care. Eau de retro notwithstanding, it's the "cool" impulse behind albums like these that make them feel so dated. I mean, can't we figure out something more interesting to do with ourselves than "hearkening back"? I'm tired of hearkening, frankly. But this is music for people who want to feel safe -- people for whom the word "new" means commercial failure and the concomitant notion that they just won't be "cool." While The Strokes may be cool, they are most definitely not new. So I give them the big (yet indifferent) "so what?" If you want to listen to some great "rock" that does new and interesting things that you haven't heard before and might even stimulate your fancies, why not pick up The Unicorns' Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone or The Decemberists' Her Majesty or wait for Liars' They Were Wrong So We Drowned, which should be out in January.
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Burt Bacharach and Ron Isley
Here I Am Dreamworks Records
Full disclosure: I'm a sucker for dork pop songwriters who hit their collective zenith in about 1975: Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Carole King, Nick Lowe. Burt Bacharach almost fits my niche, but he predates this era somewhat, and he never seemed to be all that where the literate dork songwriting factor was concerned. Nevertheless, he had some hits that deserve their propers: "Alfie," "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," "What the World Needs Now Is Love," "Close to You" -- all all that. For some reason, Bacharach became the hipster lounge throwback du jour a few years back when Elvis Costello decided to dip into his discography. Then, before you knew it, he was in Austin Powers. I'm not saying that Ron Isley (of the Isley Brothers and "Shout" fame) is trying to ride Bacharach's cache coattails, but his recent bankruptcy does make you wonder how much false is in his falsetto. And this album just sounds so "that's a take" you can barely take it. Not bad, just creepy.