Heard Here

The Strokes
Is this It?

I tried so hard to hate this album. Habitually, I would find myself sprawled across the couch, with a large bottle of malt liquor clutched tightly in one hand, frowning mercilessly as I prepared to once again press play. Between gulps of the frothy goodness, I would lazily thumb through the liner notes, glaring contemptuously at the painfully wry photographs of band members appearing in varied mild states of self-conscious disarray. I would think about the Strokes as the ultimate apocalyptic apex of that pseudo-trashy New York City hipster aesthetic I generally find so repugnant. “They’re total poseurs,” I would snort to myself and to any intoxicated housemate willing to listen to my wild-eyed proselytizing.
As my rage would rise to a fevered pitch, I would begin to imagine the Strokes in their native habitat. In my mind’s eye, I would watch them strolling down Bedford Avenue surrounded by a posse of trendy slack-jawed flunkies. I would see them nonchalantly waving fat rolls of twenty-dollar bills as they rolled into Cokey’s for a little late-night stimuli. I would observe them holding court at their favorite watering holes. They would be dragging scrawny Sarah Lawrence girls into the bathroom stalls for sexual favors and scoffing cruelly at the rare sight of an uneasy square accidentally invading the limitless parameters of their god-awful aura.
As extreme and biased as my initial impulse was, some of my vicious accusations had a certain degree of validity. The Strokes are, in fact, a highly derivative band made up of upper-crust cutie-pies who obnoxiously masquerade as hard-living purveyors of gutter-rock. Reveling in the ironic trappings of their overwhelmingly popular sub-genre of choice, these willowy hipsters do present themselves as a clever pastiche of rock star clichés, having jettisoned their millionaire parents and prep school diplomas in favor of tight jeans, shaggy hairdos and most importantly, a startling amount of critical acclaim.
And sadly, they deserve it. While their elemental guitar hooks and lilting vocal melodies owe a great deal to the Velvet Underground, the Stooges and many other bands that have mined much of the same musical territory with much more subtlety, emotional urgency and ingenuity, the results are surely fun and clever, if not particularly original. Indeed, the Strokes have managed to construct a surprisingly slick evolution of the garage-rock formula that sounds tasteful, thoroughly catchy and entirely unpretentious.
As the band churns out tidy three-minute packages of tuneful splendor, lead singer John Casablanca (that fucking punk) warbles lyrics about getting wasted, lying to girls and having no money. And while a previous incarnation of Andrew might have sarcastically remarked on the Strokes’ irrevocable slot in the canon of hip New York City rockers who dress like Tom Verlaine and sing about…gasp…girls, liquor and the hard life, I think that I’ve finally learned my lesson. As my buddy Calvin Broadus likes to say, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” If you (like me) can’t stand the trendy bullshit that continuously befalls independent rock, don’t take out your frustration on a couple of extremely lucky and moderately talented types who blow up the spot. Player-hating is so 1996.

-Andrew Simmons

Michael Jackson

The King of Pop is back. Maybe not in a big way, but Invincible, Jackson’s first album in six years, is proof that he’s not ready to give up his throne just yet. Invincible is unlikely to convert hardcore non-fans into Neverland groupies, but many of the tracks are thoroughly impressive. The best hearken back to Jackson’s Off The Wall and Thriller days when, along with producer Quincy Jones, he helped lay the foundations of the soon-to-explode pop/R&B sound.
The first single, “You Rock My World” combines solid hip hop beats, jazzy keyboards and sweetly simple lyrics (“Ooh who’d think I’d find/Such a perfect love that’s awesomely so fine”), easily making it Jackson’s best dance tune since 1987’s “Bad.” “Unbreakable” and “Invincible” follow the same groove: straight pop without any of Jackson’s late-’90s ode-to-self ridiculousness.
There is a healthy serving of ridiculous stuff here, though. “Speechless” and “The Lost Children” are melodramatic, over-the-top orchestrations that take us places we’ve already been or just never wanted to go. “Threatened,” Invincible’s last track, is one of those “I’m bad” songs where Jackson fails in his attempt to scare us into submission. The song just has nothing new to offer, and the lyrics (“Half of me you’ll never be/So you should feel threatened by me”) do nothing to re-establish Jackson’s artistic gravity.
The album has both its good and bad moments but is just what Jackson needed to spice up his discography, which seemed to be moving further and further away from the reality of mainstream pop — a reality he ironically helped create. Invincible runs hot and cold, but is ultimately worth a listen. Let’s only hope that Jackson continues in this vein of following his original pop ethics.

-Kari Wethington

November 9
November 16

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