Under Control

Two years later, the Strokes are still on Fire

But the members of the Strokes decided long ago that it was all worth it, back when they were just five friends instead of The Band That Will Save Rock and Roll. So when it came time to make Room on Fire, they were the same people they were before. Not characters in a magazine profile, not a blind item on Page 6 of the New York Post. If anything, those two years made them stronger in this resolve.

"I think going into it the second time we had a little more experience, you know, in terms of music, in terms of being friends," Fraiture says. "And I think life in general. And Gordon [Raphael], our producer, as well: We'd played a lot of shows after recording with him, and he got a lot of jobs producing. So he got a lot better for the second album. It was kind of, in essence, the same process, but just with a lot of added things like that, like experience and things like that."

Which is why Room on Fire isn't so much a progression as it is a refinement. The songs are shorter and tighter, lean as an NFL wideout. The influences are updated, skipping from the mean streets of 1970s New York to the friendlier confines of early MTV (check the handclaps and Valensi's synth-like guitar leads on lead single "12:51"). They're growing as a band, but not into a different one. They still rely on Casablancas' last-call leering ("Meet Me in the Bathroom"), Moretti's drum-machine rhythms ("The Way It Is"), Fraiture's R&B bounce ("Automatic Stop") and guitarists who stab as much as strum (pretty much everywhere, but especially on "I Can't Win"). You could point out the lifts here and there (is the opening riff from Stevie Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen" or Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger?"--discuss), but there's no point. They belong to the Strokes now. Is this it again? Yes. In fact, it's even better.

It sounds almost effortless, but it wasn't. Not by a long shot. At times, the group spent 23 hours a day in the studio, tinkering with minute details. But this life is exactly what they wanted, as Fraiture says. This is the reason they put up with all the rest of it.

"I think the thing is we're just very excited about what we do and, you know, we have ideas in our heads and the way we feel we want our songs to sound. And as soon as we start getting into that, we just want to hear a finished product as soon as we can. Not for a deadline or anything. Just because we really want to. If we could, we'd work on music all the time. We'd love to write albums all the time, but the other part of that is touring and promotion that we have to do. They were rough hours, of course, but we enjoy the bonus afterwards."

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