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The Strokes 

First Impressions of Earth (RCA)

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The Strokes were labeled the saviors of N.Y.C.'s rock-and-roll scene when they oozed out of hipster enclaves (and, er, prep school) in 2001. But in the ensuing years, all the tricks that made the fab five so exciting -- snappy hooks, half-drunken confessions of love/lust, and off-balance, VU-meets-AOR riffs -- began to sound just as tired as the endless buzz bands ripping off Gang of Four.

In fact, as the hype around Big Apple groups fades, so does the Strokes' appeal -- or so it seems from the laborious, overly long First Impressions of Earth. Instead of coked-up tempos and sloppy rock rhythms, Earth contains middle-speed songs that pilfer -- and render bland -- ideas from heavy-metal guitar solos, Muse's driving wall-of-prog, U2's back catalog, and corrugated dance-punk. Julian Casablancas' lyrics, while never substantial, feel particularly empty this time, thanks to an overwhelming sense of paranoia (and fear of/disgust with big cities). Heck, on Earth's burbling highlight "Ask Me Anything," the Rufus Wainwright-channeling Casablancas even keeps repeating the phrase, "I've got nothing to say." Sadly prophetic, that.

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