Is this It?
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. Theyre
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 minds 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 Cokeys
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
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
liquor and the hard life, I think that Ive finally learned
my lesson. As my buddy Calvin Broadus likes to say, Dont
hate the player, hate the game. If you (like me) cant
stand the trendy bullshit that continuously befalls independent
rock, dont take out your frustration on a couple of extremely
lucky and moderately talented types who blow up the spot. Player-hating
is so 1996.
King of Pop is back. Maybe not in a big way, but Invincible, Jacksons
first album in six years, is proof that hes 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 Jacksons 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
whod think Id find/Such a perfect love thats awesomely
so fine), easily making it Jacksons best dance tune
since 1987s Bad. Unbreakable and Invincible
follow the same groove: straight pop without any of Jacksons
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 weve already been or just
never wanted to go. Threatened, Invincibles last
track, is one of those Im 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 youll
never be/So you should feel threatened by me) do nothing to
re-establish Jacksons 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. Lets only hope that Jackson continues
in this vein of following his original pop ethics.