Built on a driving Clash-style bass line and an effortless guitar hook, What Ever Happened? kicks off the album with a New York sneer. Lead singer Julian Casablancas whines, I wanna be forgotten/ and I dont wanna be reminded. The song establishes the Strokes as a group more comfortable with dodging their fame instead of reveling in it. The band has grown into a much more mature and musically talented ensemble.
Their inclusion of new producer Gordon Raphael seems to have expanded upon the Strokes already venomous attitude toward songwriting. The majority of the tracks from Room on Fire are bitter condemnations and accusations, each propelled by vicious guitar licks and machine gun drumming. Reptilia and Automatic Stop could be the best track combination the Strokes have ever made, with Casablancas crooning heartlessly Im not your Friend, I never was in the latter. 12:51, the first single, lightens the mood of the albums first half from angry to cynical, but even the flippant attitude and pop-bounce of this sure fire hit cant overshadow the sarcastically sweet, You Talk Way Too Much.
The albums second half is substantially more disarming and unguarded. Under Control is a bittersweet apology that could fit in at any high school prom, while Meet Me In The Bathroom is a tongue-in-cheek tune thats so New Wave even Flock of Seagulls would blush. The Way It Is bleeds from every pore, detailing a break-up that Casablancas seems too emotionless to care about as he blithely sings, I wish it werent true, but thats the way it is. The Strokes have finally learned how to use their amazing fusion of 70s New York City punk and early-80s New Wave to create an entirely new sound. Casablancas staccato blast of wit and longing on The End Has No End is one of those moments that define a great band: accessible, yet totally on the edge.
Before Room on Fire, it was easy to lump the Strokes in with other garage rock bands like The White Stripes, The Hives, or The Vines. Room on Fire distances the Strokes from their competition by an interstellar mile, and makes all the critics comparisons to the founders of modern rock less unbelievable. No longer just an excellent tribute band, the Strokes have staked a legitimate claim to the throne of mainstream intellectual rock its up to them just how long their will legend last.