Review of Stroked: A Tribute to “Is This It”

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Peter Bjorn and John’s “Is This It” is the most faithful rendition of the whole compilation, an inadvertent reminder of Julian Casablancas’ inimitable cool and how hard it is to channel. Bands like Real Estate and the Morning Benders play these songs like they would play one of their own — both covers are enjoyable novelties but nowhere near as desperate and explosive as the originals.

Chelsea Wolfe and Wise Blood take the greatest creative license, with nearly unrecognizable takes on “The Modern Age” and “Someday,” respectively. Heems turns “New York City Cops” — which, it’s worth noting, wasn’t included on the U.S. release because the “they ain’t too smart” refrain didn’t jibe with the nation’s collective post-9/11 mood — into a backing track for a free-flowing rant against police brutality.

Stroked is a nice idea, appropriately appreciative of just what a big deal Is This It was a decade ago. Which is to say, a really big deal: it finished second in the Village Voice’s 2001 Pazz and Jop critics’ poll, essentially first but for the music-writerly idol worship of Bob Dylan manifested in the reception to Love and Theft.

It’s certified platinum in almost every country it’s been shipped to. It was the impetus for a lot of post-punk revivalism, and even more discussion of said revival.

This was all between eight and 10 years ago: before fellow New Yorker James Murphy worried about the kids coming up from behind, back when major labels could reasonably release an album in July on one continent and in October on another. The further away we get from it, the more the abortive Strokes-led “rescue of rock” will appear foreshortened — a passing fancy, not unlike chillwave and (in time) Odd Future. 

Is This It was an incredibly gratifying album, timeless in a way very little music can be. Even beyond the fact of its existence, Stroked hints at this, especially when it shows how undeniable its subject matter is by presenting it in a different guise — like Computer Magic’s glammy “Take It or Leave It” or Owen Pallett’s buttoned-up, string-laden “Hard to Explain.” It’s predictably nowhere near as satisfying as its subject.

But it is nonetheless a reminder of why Is This It elicited the reaction it did, at a time when that reaction seems less and less comprehensible. Even if for nothing other than that perspective, Stroked is a valuable exploration.

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