In 1998, singer Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti came together to form The Strokes. Three years later, they released their debut album, Is This It, an album that changed the face of contemporary rock and established them as one of the leading lights in the indie music scene. Since then, they’ve released 5 further studios albums. Not all of them have met with the same level of critical and commercial success as their debut, but they’re all essential listening for anyone with even the faintest interest in guitar-driven rock. Here’s how we rank all six The Strokes albums.
6. Comedown Machine
As Far Out Magazine says, Comedown Machine is by no means a bad album. It just doesn’t reach the high watermark that The Strokes previously set. There’s plenty of great songs (One Way Trigger and Tap Out being two of the finest), but the band’s attempt to steer their sound in a new wave direction falls a little wide of the mark. It lacks the visceral punch we expect (and want) of The Strokes, resulting in an album that by other people’s standards would be great, but by their standards is merely average. For all that, it still managed to reach No. 10 on the Billboard 200 and place at number 41 on the NME’s list of the “50 Best Albums of 2013”.
5. First Impressions Of Earth
For their third studio album, The Strokes went dark – really dark. Aggressive to the point of being combative, First Impressions Of Earth showcased a very new, very angry side of The Strokes, and by no means an unwelcome one. It’s not a flawless album – there’s a little too much self-indulgence and the sonic shift from the first two albums is a little bewildering at first – but any confusion quickly gives way to exhilaration as the band pounds their way through one great song after the other. In fairness, not everyone got on board with the experimentation, and it’s not a sound The Strokes have cared to revisit since. But if you can listen to it with an open mind, you’ll find a lot to love in those intricate lyrics, rich textures, and face-melting riffs. Released on January 3, 2006, it peaked at No. 1 on the UK Album Chart (their first album to top the chart) and at No. 4 in the US.
After a five-year break from the recording studio, The Strokes returned in 2011 with their fourth studio album, Angles. After such a long break, there was understandably a lot of hype surrounding the release – hype that, fortunately, Angles more than lived up to. As NME notes, at the time of its release, The Strokes were a difficult band to see in concert. Albert Hammond Jr. was deep in the grips of his addictions, Julian Casablancas’ onstage banter was becoming increasingly bizarre, and the friction between bandmates was palpable. With so much bad feeling in the air, Angles should have flopped. But if anything, the tension helped, at least on the first part of the album. Midway through, it begins running out of steam, becoming increasingly directionless as the album progresses. But the first half is enough to save it, with some wonderfully intricate songwriting and enough ’80s power-pop influences to keep things interesting. Released on March 18, 2011, it reached No. 1 in Australia and No. 4 in the US.
3. The New Abnormal
After Comedown Machine, The Strokes took a break from the studio. In 2016, they released an EP, Future Present Past, that failed to find its mark or generate any kind of excitement for a new album. But between then and 2020, something happened to get the band’s creative juices pumping. The New Abnormal wasn’t just another The Strokes album, it was their most exciting project for years. Much of the credit for that lies with producer Rick Rubin, whose influence coaxed an extraordinarily focused, cohesive performance out of the band. After kicking off with the excellent The Adults Are Talking, the album continues in the same vein for the remaining nine songs. Try as you might, it’s impossible to find a single misstep – an extraordinary achievement for any band, but particularly one over 20 years into their career.
2. Room On Fire
Second albums are notoriously difficult, but they’re especially difficult for a band whose debut has been hailed as a rock and roll masterpiece. Room on Fire could have been the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it was still going to be compared to Is This It and it was always going to come up wanting. Predictably enough, some critics savaged it, calling it a thinner, paler version of their debut with less interesting singles, scuzzier vocals, and less memorable tunes. To an extent, the criticism had a point – it certainly wasn’t as good as Is This It. But ultimately, there are millions and millions of albums that aren’t as good as Is This It but that still manage to be phenomenal. With moments like 12:51, Reptilia, The End Has No End, You Talk Way Too Much, and Under Control, Room on Fire is one of them. Released on October 28, 2003, it peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and eventually certified Gold. By 2021, it had sold over 1.6 million units worldwide to become the band’s second best-selling album.
1. Is This It
By the time Is This It was released, the hype surrounding both the album and The Strokes was enormous. It started with the release of their EP The Modern Age and continued to grow as the band embarked on a pre-release worldwide tour. The hype could have been a curse, but for once, it proved justified. The influence of bands likes the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, and Television is stamped all over the album, but as All Music writes, The Strokes didn’t simply rehash the sounds that inspired them—they remade them into their own image. With its raw vocals, chugging backbeat, and spiky guitars, Is This It may have had strong elements of late 70s punk, but its combination of raw swagger and youthful insecurity updated it for a modern audience. It was a seminal moment in alternative rock, effectively changing the perception of indie and the future of guitar music in one fell swoop. Songs like Late Nite, Someday, and Take It Or Leave It may have inspired a bunch of hopeless imitators, but they also opened the door for bands like the Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, LCD Soundsystem, and the Killers. A timeless classic, and one whose influence is almost impossible to overstate.