The Strokes probably didn't deserve to be anointed the saviors of rock on the basis of Is This It?, an entertaining but pointedly non-innovative album. When they hit the studio to record Room On Fire, they froze a little, and spit out a rehash instead of a radical advance. It was an enjoyable rehash, but if The Strokes had collapsed after two records, the second would've been more of a footnote in rock history, like the sophomore Stone Roses record, or everything Marshall Crenshaw has done since 1982.
Nevertheless, The Strokes have pressed on to album number three, First Impressions Of Earth, a 14-track, 52-minute affair that's so long—too long, really—because bandleader Julian Casablancas seems determined not to shortchange any ideas, even those that don't sound Strokes-y enough. He does play it safe on songs like "You Only Live Once" and "Killing Lies," where the stair-stepping bass and trebly jangle resemble yet more Is This It? leftovers. But even the album's first single, "Juicebox," stretches the limits of what fans expect from a Strokes song, adding sonic nods to The Damned, The Hives, early U2, and the Peter Gunn theme.
Casablancas and company sound loose, and they've regained a lot of the coolest-dudes-in-New-York swagger that made them so initially exciting. Their musical ability has caught up with their posturing, such that guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi can finesse the Graham Parker lick that anchors "Razorblade" (while Casablancas is sneakily swiping a Barry Manilow melody), and bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti can swing the shady nu-disco rhythms of "On The Other Side." By the time Casablancas moans "I've got nothing to say" on the art-glam ballad "Ask Me Anything," those who've maintained faith in The Strokes will be begging to differ.