Room on Fire (RCA)

The Strokes 

Room on Fire (RCA)

As it must, the Strokes' second LP registers as something of a disappointment. After all, Room on Fire sounds like the Strokes' debut -- and once they remade the world in their own prickly, swivel-hipped image, nothing that sounds vaguely similar to 2001's Is This It could ever best its trashy, spiteful, nervous energy. The album's brashness made it exciting; in their oh-so-cool way, the Strokes seemed like kids who'd just found the key to the candy store.

Room on Fire, on the other hand, feels serious. Orchestrating a wider palette of musical ideas into their angular post-punk, the Strokes trade some crackle and pop for texture. The synths and reggae stuff really works, and there's an earnest beauty in the Zeppelinesque "Under Control." Similarly, the bombast is spooned out in more measured doses, but it's more than made up for by Nick Valensi's ingenious guitar work; he owns this record.

But in the brilliance of its arrangements, Room on Fire improves on -- and simultaneously mirrors -- Is This It: With time-signature shifts, counter-punching beats and hooks, and interlaced melodic phrases, the Strokes still sound like a band racing to keep up with itself. Which may be why every other band on the planet has spent the last two years eating its dust.

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