I can’t get into things when they’re popular. I just can’t. I’m too full of doubt and I don’t trust myself: what if I only like this because it’s popular? What if I only hate it because it’s popular? Why can’t I ignore how popular it is and just experience it as it is? Silly things like that. I still haven’t seen Lost, because I got sick of people talking about it before I’d seen a single episode. I’ve avoided Arrested Development for similar reasons. No, I have to wait a couple of years for it all to die down so I can watch, listen or read as an empty vessel, a tabula rasa.
This was the case with The Strokes. They’d released Is This It in 2001, but it wasn’t until I’d started university that I picked up a copy of it in Fopp on Union Street, intrigued by the cover. I bought a lot of CDs in those days because I liked the cover. I didn’t know what was cool, so I thought I’d try a bit of everything and see what stuck.
I knew The Strokes were severely cool though. It seems a little quaint now, but ten years ago they were absolutely adored by critics. They were a bunch of well-dressed guys in their 20s who played disinterested guitar music and all seemed to hang out together. They shared a lot in common with boy bands. They all had their own haircut, girls wanted to date them, guys wanted to be part of the gang, and both sexes could discuss which one was their favourite – mine was Julian, the girl at Fopp’s was Albert.
This, of course, turned me off instantly when Is This It appeared in Our Price at the Rivergate, but I was at university and it’d been three years. I thought I could afford to give them a whirl.
I didn’t like them immediately. It was a very specific sound, and I’d only just started weaning myself off the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, System of a Down, Coldplay and The Coral. It sounded almost like chiptune. Very rigid, lean arrangements, heavy on the melody and light on almost everything else. I’d stick the CD on while I was doing other things, and over time, I warmed to them.
A lot of people hated The Strokes at first. They were seen as a bunch of too-cool rich kids who couldn’t play. Hipsters before the term became meaningless. They weren’t genuine enough, they’d paid their way into stardom, and it was all just a fad. It’s only half-true – they could definitely play, and they were rich kids, but being a product of marketing? I don’t know about that. I think, hard as it may be to believe, their popularity was an inevitable result of being both pretty and very good. We hadn’t had a vital guitar band in years.
As for the fad? Well, it went both ways.
By the time their third album rolled around, they weren’t young and cute any more. Their fashion had been absorbed fully into the mainstream and guitar music had moved on – Franz Ferdinand had made Jerky Indie Disco Rock massive, emo was on the rise, and the kids demanded a more frenetic, desperate sound to dance to. Affected boredom wasn’t cool any more, but being cool and doing their midi-like songs was all The Strokes really knew how to do.
It’s a shame. Track eight, Hard To Explain, has just come on. I must’ve heard it hundreds of times by now, but even without the nostalgia factor, it still has everything that made it a great song. It may sound like 2001, but it’ll still sound good in 20 years. I think those haters were wrong. Is This It is still a bit too recent to call a classic, but it was way more important than detractors gave it credit for. It’s cliché now, but maybe one day it won’t be. We’ll have to wait for people who are too young to remember it was once kinda cool to hate The Strokes to discover it to find out.
I wonder how many old bands I love were considered a fad band by the generation who heard them first.