Room on Fire
Wuddya think of The Strokes’ debut Is This It? Well, however you felt about the old album is exactly how you’ll feel about Room on Fire. Pop the new one into the CD player, get to work on cooking dinner and 10 minutes later you’ll say, “Huh? That’s odd. I thought I put on the new album!” Just about everything’s the same: same members, producer, record label, number of tracks, and of course the same hype (the Strokes landed on the covers of both Rolling Stone and Spin this month). The similarity between the albums’ opening tracks is startling; only lead singer Julian Casablancas is no longer wondering if this is it. Now he’s asking for the hype to cool down a bit.
With multiple listens and microscopic investigation, small differences can be found. Nothing on Room of Fire is as danceable as “Someday” or “Last Nite,” but everything’s just as poppy. “Automatic Stop” is a great New Wave single (Wall of Voodoo, anyone?), as is “12:51” (Men at Work with a late ’70s distortion pedal thrown in?), and “Between Love & Hate”…well, forget about it. This one’s going to unite Stones, Cake and John Mayer fans. (Jed Gottlieb)
Collections of B-sides and rarities are typically released with an eye toward appeasing die-hard fans. In the case of Pearl Jam’s double-disc Lost Dogs, however, the outtakes will definitely appeal to those lukewarm Pearl Jam listeners who grew disinterested after Ten and Vs. (which is to say, just when the music got a bit more challenging—and largely fell off Top 40 radio). The Lost Dogs tracks feature all four Pearl Jam drummers and about as many singing styles from Vedder, from the early put-on baritone to the later, more natural-sounding stuff. A hidden track even reveals the charismatic singer’s first-released jab at his myriad imitators (“So sing just like him, fuckers”).
Unlike albums past, Pearl Jam here lets listeners behind the velvet rope, at least somewhat, including extensive liner notes which reveal some curious songwriting tidbits, like bassist Jeff Ament’s resentment at being snubbed by a childhood hero (former L.A. Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Vedder’s anxiety over the future of the mildly famous “bee girl” from Blind Melon’s breakthrough album cover and video.
For fans, Lost Dogs is a must. For those who parted ways after Vs., there is no more accessible reintroduction than this. (Mike Keefe-Feldman)
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros
How can Strummer be dead and Streetcore sound so f$%kin’ alive? In his last great gasp, Joe Strummer has created an album unlike any other since the fall of the Clash (yes, that includes Rancid’s noble but not-quite-on-the-money attempts to carry on their idols’ legacy). From the first Telecaster strum of “Coma Girl” to the last lonely hobo-train-jumpin’ refrain of “Silver and Gold,” this one’s boiling in messy classic punk, second-wave ska, acoustic blues and protest folk. The “Redemption Song” cover would sound silly if it didn’t serve double duty as ad hoc epitaph. Streetcore can’t replace London Calling, but it does echo that Clash masterpiece. Strummer may not sound as angry as he once was, but he’s just as passionate. The only thing that distinguishes “Get Down Moses” from “Rudie Can’t Fail” is that Strummer’s cockney accent has mellowed—now you can decipher the lyrics. (Jed Gottlieb)
Jade Tree Records
I never thought it would happen to me, but it has: I’ve gotten to the point where new punk rock just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I’ve had my fill. If I was 15 again, I’d be all over Strike Anywhere, but I’m not, and Exit English leaves me limp and cold. It just sounds like a thousand other records that come out every year: protest pop-punk in the Epitaph/Fat Wreck Chords vein, melodic guitar lines and octave riffing with shouted lyrics. Nothing exceptional about it whatsoever, but this is one of the bands whose name you see everywhere on badges and back-patches. In Lithuania a few months ago, virtually every punk I saw was sporting some piece of Strike Anywhere apparel.
I’ll still get behind Strike Anywhere on punk principle (kind of the same way I’m down with the Harry Potter books because at least kids are reading something), but there’s nothing here for me anymore. The lyrics are the personal kind, the revolution-starts-in-the-bathroom-mirror kind, the ungrammatical-glut-of-loaded-imagery kind. You can’t really tell what the singer is screaming about (damn, I sound just like my dad!), and trying to follow along on the enclosed lyric sheet (with all the words rammed together minus any punctuation) is just tedious. The production is clean, fat, big—also completely characterless. There are mosh breakdowns, lots of sixths and all the other trimmings of a Fat Wreck Chords band du jour, circa 1995. If you liked Propagandhi, you’ll like Strike Anywhere. If you liked Propagandhi, you don’t need Strike Anywhere. (Andy Smetanka)