The Strokes: Albums Ranked Worst To Best
By Nicholas Downey 15 April 2021
The Strokes, 2020. Credit: Press
The Strokes are perhaps the definitive rock band of the early 2000s. Crashing onto the scene in 2001 with their magnificent debut ‘Is This It’, the group, led by songwriter and lead singer Julian Casablancas, would go on to craft some of the most memorable songs and albums from the past two decades. It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the band, with every project they release compared to the highest standard of their debut. However, one year on from their latest release, ‘The New Abnormal’, it seems The Strokes are well and truly back. As we approach twenty years since the band’s first record, we take a look at how all of their albums stack up, worst to best.
6. Angles (2011)
After a five year hiatus in which various members had pursued solo projects, to varying degrees of success, The Strokes returned in 2011 with ‘Angles’. A move away from their previous rock-oriented and guitar-driven sound, the group dived into synth-pop with a distinct ‘80s nostalgia. The highlights of the album provided some of the group’s most memorable songs, including the singles ‘Under Cover of Darkness’ and ‘Taken for a Fool’. However, for the most part, the album is largely forgettable. The opening and closing tracks are solid, as are the aforementioned singles, but overall the project comes off as rather uninspired. By no means a terrible album, but easily the worst the group have produced.
5. Comedown Machine (2013)
Moving on from ‘Angles’, The Strokes released their fifth album ‘Comedown Machine’ just two years later. Despite receiving almost no promotional work and the songs from this album rarely being played live, this collection of songs actually presents some of the five-piece’s most interesting and diverse ideas. Sure, the album gets a little bogged down in its middle stretch, but it also contains a diverse range of sounds and an experimental edge that stands out from much of their previous work. Casablancas tries out his falsetto on the likes of ‘One Way Trigger’, whilst ‘Welcome to Japan’ presents some of his best songwriting. The finest song on this album, ‘Chances’, is easily the saddest song that Casablancas has ever written for The Strokes, a heart-breaking depiction of separation and loneliness. It is a measure of the greatness of this band that a record as good as this one places as only their fifth-best.
4. Room on Fire (2003)
2003’s ‘Room on Fire’ represents the band’s difficult second album, as they tried to top their much-lauded debut and live up to the reputation they had garnered, perhaps unfairly, as the saviours of rock. To their credit, it is a magnificent LP, filled with hits and containing only a couple of misses. The band re-tread much of the lo-fi, casual energy that they had on their previous album, but Casablancas himself admits that the record could have been better had the record company given them longer to work on it. Regardless, it is still a brilliant listen, and the likes of ‘12:51’, ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’ and the classic ‘Reptilia’ are some of their very best tunes, amongst several other belters from across the record. ‘Room on Fire’ is not The Strokes’ greatest moment, but it is not far off.
3. First Impressions of Earth (2006)
The Strokes’ third album, ‘First Impressions of Earth’, sees the band move towards a cleaner, slightly heavier sound whilst retaining the gritty edge that made their earlier work so brilliant. It is a move that pays off remarkably well, with the opening track ‘You Only Live Once’ kicking the record off in an emphatic style, providing one of their most memorable choruses. The record continues at a frenetic pace, with the hit singles ‘Juicebox’ and ‘Heart in a Cage’ followed by the excellent ‘Razorblade’, humourously declaring that ‘my feelings are more important than yours’ in the way that only Casablancas can. Indeed, the opening half of this record probably presents the best six-song stretch of any Strokes album. The second half of this album sees a slight dip in quality, but still features many inspired moments including ‘Ize of the World’ and ‘Red Light’, which closes the record in fine style. It could be said that ‘First Impressions’ is perhaps a slightly one-dimensional album, but it is one packed full of so many great songs and performances that this is more than made up for. It is (to date) the band’s only number one album in England, and it is not difficult to see why.
2. Is This It (2001)
If The Strokes only have one ‘classic’ record, it is most certainly this one. Crashing onto the scene in the atmosphere of post-9/11 New York, this is an album that really changed everything for indie rock. Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner and Brandon Flowers from The Killers both acknowledge the enormous influence of the band, and this record in particular, on their own careers and, for better and worse, ‘Is This It’ is largely responsible for about ninety per cent of the music we drunkenly sing along to at Ruby Tuesdays. ‘Is This It’ is an album whose reputation is entirely supported by its content. The opening title track is the band at their laid-back best, and the rest of the tracklist is packed full of The Strokes’ very best and most popular material. ‘The Modern Age’, ‘Someday’, ‘Hard to Explain’ and almost every other track are amongst the most essential songs in the band’s discography. ‘Last Nite’, placed innocuously in the album’s brilliant middle stretch, is the band’s most popular song and one that still gets people dancing just as much as it did upon its release almost twenty years ago. Although it does not top this list, this is the quintessential Strokes record, and one that any music lover really must listen to. A perfect thirty-six minute slice of indie rock genius.
1. The New Abnormal (2020)
One year on from The Strokes’ latest release, ‘The New Abnormal’, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is the band’s best moment in a sparkling discography. It is their most diverse and expansive album, covering a wide range of sounds and ideas over nine songs whose length is often twice that of the archetypal Strokes track. Most importantly, it is the zenith of the band’s songwriting and musical performance, something encouraged by legendary producer Rick Rubin, who also ensures that this is the best sounding record in their catalogue. The Strokes have always excelled at openers, but ‘The Adults Are Talking’, which opens this album, is the best of the bunch. The riff is as good as any they have ever produced, the melody is impeccable and Julian’s falsetto part before the coda is absolutely jaw-dropping. Indeed, the entire album easily presents Casablancas’ best vocals for the band. ‘Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus’ and ‘Bad Decisions’ are as brilliantly catchy as the band has ever been, rounding out a wonderfully energetic opening act. As the album moves towards its second half, things slow down a bit, kicking things off with lead single ‘At the Door’, a stunningly beautiful and emotional song that employs a dense electronic texture previously unexplored by the band. This greater experimentation continues for the rest of the record and peaks with the band’s best closing song, ‘Ode to the Mets’. The song gathers momentum over six minutes until eventually it becomes a whirlwind of soaring vocals and entrancing drum and guitar parts, a dramatic conclusion to one of the best albums of recent years. ‘The New Abnormal’ shows The Strokes to be back to their very best, cementing their place as one of the most significant bands since the turn of the century.