It's tough being a Stroke. One moment you've saved rock 'n' roll with a 35-minute debut album, the next you're being branded celebrity-dating has-beens while a bunch of other fresh-faced groups (the Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party) rip off your look and sound and bask in the critical and commercial glory. So what's a Stroke to do? Build a new studio, hook up with a new producer, David Kahne, who, as the Independent points out, is "an industry veteran with shiny, big-selling things like Bangles and Paul McCartney records to his name," and take almost a year to record your new album.
The result: "First Impressions of Earth," out this week. "People's perception is it seems like a pretty big step, whether forward or backward," frontman Julian Casablancas admits in the Los Angeles Times.
The first impression for many reviewers is of the record's sheer bulk, sonically and temporally. Pitchfork Media (rating 5.9) hears a band "wildly ratcheting up their sound, trying new things, getting weirder" - or, as the Los Angeles Times (three stars out of four) puts it, replacing "their spindly, catchy sound with a thick, messy, catchy sound." The Manchester Evening News (three stars out of five), meanwhile, gripes that the disc "clocks in at nearly an hour long -- the length of the Strokes' previous two LPs combined," adding, "rather than an economical whole, it's a chore to separate the nuggets from the jumped-up B-sides."
The Guardian (three stars out of five) suggests this stems from the big-in-Europe Strokes seeking to finally "break" America, and the New York Post concurs: "In an obvious move to be as appealing to American kids as they are to Brit brats, the quintet has fattened its sound with complex melodies that rely on ill-fitting bridges to glue them together."
Other reviewers salute Casablancas' singing, along with the guitar work of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. The New York Times gushes, "As the guitars and drums buffet [Casablancas], there's no posing, no detachment, and absolutely no way to keep his cool. He, and the Strokes, are much better off without it."
-- Matt Glazebrook