The Strokes Albums Ranked
Heralded as the prodigal sons of the 1970s’ down-and-dirty rock music revival upon their debut in 2001, The Strokes have since taken a different tack. With big hiatuses and a clear cult of personality centered around frontman Julian Casablancas, the five-piece lineup has nevertheless held strong and released six studio albums. I’ve enjoyed The Strokes since middle school, and this is my delayed response to the release of their latest album, THE NEW ABNORMAL, on April 10.
I won’t be considering the band’s EPs THE MODERN AGE (2000 [re-recorded for IS THIS IT]) or FUTURE PRESENT PAST (2016) for this list.
#6 — FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF EARTH (2005)
Favorite track: “Razorblade”
I see The Strokes’ six albums as comprised of two trilogies, one relatively grounded in that aforementioned ‘70s/garage rock revival and the other in an ‘80s/synthy callback. FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF EARTH was the last release in that first trilogy, the least impressive rendering of the sounds and concepts of IS THIS IT. The band got a little looser and experimental for FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF EARTH, for the worse, and it resulted in a greater number of tracks that, ironically, don’t leave much of a lasting impression past their first ones. Essentially, the first half of the record is pretty solid, with “Razorblade” taking the cake as the singularly groovy track, but FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF EARTH ultimately devolves into some self-indulgent territory.
#5 — ROOM ON FIRE (2003)
Favorite track: “Reptilia”
ROOM ON FIRE was seen as The Strokes’ sophomore slump, and sure, it wasn’t as good as IS THIS IT. This is a good time to mention, as well, that not one of The Strokes’ six records are bad or not worth listening to, because even #6 FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF EARTH is an enjoyable enough listen. The same goes for ROOM ON FIRE, which takes the place above due to the increased potency of about the same number of standout tracks. “What Ever Happened?” is one of my favorite songs from the band, but “Reptilia’s” greatness, perhaps The Strokes’ biggest hit, is so hard to deny. The guitar and bass riffs are sinister, and while nothing else on the album matches it, ROOM ON FIRE feels more vital and entertaining than FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF EARTH.
#4 — THE NEW ABNORMAL (2020)
Favorite track: “Selfless”
If FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF EARTH was The Strokes’ “baroque” end to a trilogy of ‘70s-fueled rock, then THE NEW ABNORMAL occupies a similar space for what I consider their ‘80s-fueled period. It remains to be seen if this is indeed the end of that period, but in any event, THE NEW ABNORMAL too tends to feel a little rambly or relatively experimental. The result, however, is a record that permeates your consciousness. It’s really thoughtful, and with just nine tracks spanning 45 minutes, there’s a lot of space to breath. THE NEW ABNORMAL is not all downbeat, but a bulk of it finds success in the downbeat unlike other swathes of Strokes’ records.
#3 — COMEDOWN MACHINE (2013)
Favorite track: “Happy Ending”
COMEDOWN MACHINE is the exception to that “rule.” The second installment in the second trilogy that I’ve willed into existence, COMEDOWN MACHINE was definitively darker than ANGLES, which is most obviously marked by their cover designs. Compared to ANGLES, COMEDOWN MACHINE is somber and, as I’ve accused FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF EARTH of being, self-indulgent. But somehow, the result is indeed more impressive, feeling like a kind of alien epic that belies the apparent simplicity of The Strokes’ beginnings.
#2 — ANGLES (2011)
Favorite track: “Under Cover of Darkness”
But ANGLES is just so damn fun. It, too, was a far cry from the band’s debut. ANGLES is a synthy, electronic, and upbeat album that received widespread attention for its sheer difference from The Strokes’ previous work. It was like when the Bee Gees went disco. I don’t know. In any event, ANGLES is one of those albums where it’s hard to pick a favorite song from it; nevertheless, “Under Cover of Darkness” stands as the catchiest and most fun product of the record. Casablancas’ vocal delivery never quite soars above his typical monotone, but it is certainly at its most playful on ANGLES.
#1 — IS THIS IT (2001)
Favorite track: “Barely Legal”
Yeah, maybe the mark of a really great album is one where it is, in fact, really difficult to pick a favorite song; not because they’re all of equal bad quality, of course, but because you like every damn one. If that’s the measure, then IS THIS IT is one of those really great albums. The Strokes’ crowning achievement was their first, a rocking, raw, and yet wholly catchy and poppy record that makes you wonder how a band could have been fully formed right away. While that form would change over the years, The Strokes are defined by IS THIS IT, which is cited as one of the great albums of the 2000s and one of the best debut albums of all time. I can’t disagree, and yeah, I’ve spun IS THIS IT many, many times over the year, and even put a number of its songs on repeat when I was wont to do that in my teen years. IS THIS IT is rock music comfort food for me; it’s not complacent, but over time, its charms have not diminished.