So you were wondering why the vaunted return-of-rock movement still can't get much commercial traction? Why at least two years of merciless hype from pop journos sick of writing Christina Aguilera features hasn't convinced the masses to give a damn? Why next-big-things that matter are currently rarer than hair follicles in Phil Collins's sink? Room on Fire provides an answer. Rolling Stone can put the Strokes on its cover every two weeks for the next century, and it won't change the fact that this album is derivative, predictable, redundant and dull. Not only won't it smooth the path for other, better groups, but it helps explain why the nation's CD buyers have thrown themselves into the comforting arms of Clay "My Ears Are" Aiken. Some alternative.
Not that the disc is painful to hear. Far from it. These eleven tunes, which cumulatively clock in at a stingy 33 minutes, are unobjectionable in the extreme largely because of their familiarity. The combo spent much of its coyly monikered 2001 debut, Is This It, sounding like a Velvet Underground cover band, so it actually counts as progress that the players wait until song five, "You Talk Way Too Much," to toss out a thinly veiled "I'm Waiting for the Man" riff. Yet on the majority of tracks, the musicians do little to freshen the Strokes' rigid formula: burbling rhythms that suggest tired Eurodisco played on rock instruments, a polite variation on clangorous guitar and Julian Casablanca's gruff but sensitive crooning.
Granted, Big J has a way with melody, but most of his words are weightless. The closest he comes to profundity is the title phrase "The End Has No End," a variation on the Toy Story declaration "To infinity and beyond!" Otherwise, he specializes in statements that invite Freudian interpretations, including the "Under Control" assertion "I don't want to waste your time" (too late); the "Reptilia" plaint "You're not trying hard enough" (takes one to know one); and the "What Ever Happened?" line "I want to be forgotten" (be careful what you wish for).
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Even at its blandest, this stuff is fairly catchy, and the average person wouldn't lunge for the channel changer if it invaded his radio. Neither, however, is Room on Fire likely to stick in anyone's mind for more than a few seconds after the final note ends. In other words, the Strokes are incapable of leading a musical revolution, no matter how many scenesters prefer otherwise. Music writers of America, there are more Christina Aguilera articles in your future.