Sometimes the hoo-haw buzz is just too big on a band to ignore. After almost a half year of different reviewers knocking down my door with their positive opinion and everyone from NME to Joe Blow's Rock-N-Roll curbside zine hailing them as the future of rawk, I finally decided that I should give Is This It a listen. Not only did the group have critical acclaim (I don't know that I've seen any major publications that have given them a less-than-shining review), but they had controversy to go along with it!
Just in case you haven't heard the controversy, the problem for some people in a small minority (or so it seems) attacking the group is that lead singer Julian Casablancas' father runs the Elite Modeling agency in New York and if even if he weren't in a band, he'd stand to gain a fortune of something in the billions. Supposedly, the rest of the band is made up of prep-school friends and yet another strike against the band is that they managed to sign to a major label and get a huge media and sales push on the backing of only one EP. The main problem (or so some say) is that the band simply hasn't paid their dues and they've been accused of being everything from rich poseurs (aka the "boy band" of the indie scene) to derivitive ripoffs.
Honestly, my first reaction after listening to the album was the same three words that comprise the title. It seemed like a simply produced, yet slick romp through simple tunes and a sound that fell somewhere between The Stooges Lite and Velvet Underground Lite. Certainly, all the hype that I'd read on the band had set up some unreal expectations, but on subsequent listens a simple, yet highly listenable quality worked its way into my head. Granted, the group isn't technically doing anything new (like the White Stripes on their White Blood Cells album), but they're doing it pretty darn well.
One of the things that's really noticible about the album is the production quality used. Although there are some big money dollars behind the release, the production seems like it's been taken down a few levels to get more of a street feel. The vocals of Casablancas are almost always under some sort of effect and none of the instruments are pumped up very much. The drums are sharp, but lack a thick studio wallop and bass and guitars range between jangly and tight, but never really roar. In a weird way, you could say that they rock out without rocking out. Lyrically, the album is most definitely New York. There's nothing earth shattering revealed, but the group covers relationships on several different angles ("Alone, Together," "Someday," and the album-titled "Is This It" among others) without coming across as silly for the most part.
In the end, it's an enjoyable little album. The 11 tracks and 35 minutes zip by pretty quickly, and the simple, lighter guitar melodies make it bounce along most of the time as almost the perfect "summer in the city while trying to find some lovin' album." While it is a good disc, though, I'm going to have to be one of those people who waits to see what the band does next. They certainly have enough praise heaped on their shoulders that creating a second release that lives up to things will almost be impossible, but maybe they'll just pull it off. At any rate, it's a fun debut. Probably not going to change the world, but then again what will?