Room On Fire

Room On Fire

How do you follow up a debut like Is This It? In the case of The Strokes, by not losing your cool. Released two years later, Room On Fire doesn’t overhaul the strong points of that 2001 milestone. Rather, it reunites the New York five-piece with producer Gordon Raphael for what initially feels like more of the same—in the best possible way. Take the single “Reptilia,” which rides its straight-arrow bassline right into the familiar signature of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr.’s taut guitar exchanges. It could have easily slotted into the earlier record, if not for a borderline-hoarse vocal turn from Julian Casablancas after so many months of relentless touring. Likewise, “What Ever Happened?” seems to reflect on the exhaustion of overnight fame with the album’s opening couplet: “I wanna be forgotten/And I don’t wanna be reminded.” Room On Fire came together after abandoned sessions with close Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich, and returning producer Raphael once again opts for vintage warmth over modern polish. But though many of these songs preserve the early material’s clipped endings and stubborn forward drive, there are playful new tricks spread throughout the runtime. Valensi flashes bright, synth-like guitar tones on “The End Has No End” and especially “12:51,” while “The Way It Is” applies a similar tactic to Fabrizio Moretti’s drum work, rendering it with mechanical stiffness. Casablancas adopts softer, more romantic vocals against reggae-esque licks on “Automatic Stop,” before evoking a slow-dance number on prom night with the ballad “Under Control.” And more than just a druggy time capsule of early-2000s excess, “Meet Me in the Bathroom” went on to inspire both a book and documentary film of the same name. Despite the singer’s reluctance to accept his newfound notoriety at the album’s start, Casablancas caps off the record with a more accepting, even optimistic air. As the parting line for the perky closer “I Can’t Win,” he half-promises, “I’ll be right back.” The band would indeed return a few years later with 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, contributing to a career-long pattern of subtly deconstructing their sound while still presenting very much as The Strokes. Room On Fire might forever be approached as a companion piece to its older sibling, but those evolutionary shifts are already in motion here.

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