Now that Strokes fever has finally passed, (at least for the moment), we are able to look back with relative objectivity and laugh. We laugh mostly at the unanimous critical adoration that was leveled at a young band on the basis of one 30-minute LP. But we also laugh at the alarming readiness of critics and fans alike to lambaste any other up-and-coming acts as second-rate Strokes knockoffs, based on the most incidental of similarities. Countless bands had to endure such infuriating comparisons in the early ’00s, for varying and often wholly unjustified reasons — the Vines and the Hives because their names sounded similar, Interpol because they were from New York, and Rooney because well, OK, maybe that one was justified.
You can bet that had UK rockers Razorlight broken out a few years ago, they would have found themselves quickly centered in the crosshairs of such criticisms. Take one look at their shaggy hair, their vintage leather outfits, and the deliberately sloppy packaging of their debut LP Up All Night, which insists “To be played at maximum volume”. Yes, these boys would have had a tough time breaking away from their image, and escaping the gnashing jaws of rabid, Strokes-hungry critics eager to level the competition.
But this isn’t the early ’00s. It’s the mid-’00s, a different time with completely different rules. Specifically, our New York saviors are between projects right now, and the incessant comparisons and references have finally, well, ceased. As such, I received this CD in the mail ready and willing to discount all of my preconceptions, judging it solely on the quality of its music like a good critic should. I pressed play and waited eagerly for the first song to begin.
“Oh my god, is that Julian Casablancas on vocals?”
Indeed, the first thing to hit you when you hear Razorlight is this: lead singer and songwriter Johnny Bornell sounds exactly like Casablancas. From his nonchalant attitude to his anguished scream, Bornell’s gruff, disenchanted croon echoes Mr. Lead Stroke to a T. It doesn’t help that the album’s leadoff track, “Leave Me Alone”, sounds like a weak rehashing of “Take It or Leave It”. The fact of the matter is, Razorlight sounds more like the Strokes than any of the bands mentioned above. And though they lack the rapid-fire consistency of their predecessors, they’ve put together a likeable, if completely unoriginal rock record that’s sure to get even the dullest of parties onto the police blotter.
The first track to grab you will likely be the album’s first single “Golden Touch”, a true gem of a pop song which possesses all the swinging charisma that “Last Nite” had when it first kicked its way through your speakers. Bornell sings tried-and-true lyrics about the perils of perfection, but the real star is the irresistible and effortlessly catchy chorus, complete with vocal harmonies and staccato power chords. Likewise, “Up All Night” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lies” are able to transcend Bornell’s trite tales of young hedonism through the unbridled energy and enthusiasm of the band. “Rip It Up”, however, is unsalvageable, as no amount of collaborative effort can make lines like “Hey girl, get on the dance floor / And rip it up, yeah / That’s what it’s there for” any less than laughable.
Tellingly, the band’s biggest slip-ups come when they divert from their ready-made formula. “Vice” takes a stab at ’80s nostalgia, but winds up as an unintentional parody, as Bornell unabashedly croons “L-O-V-E-R, I’ll see you later” like Robert Smith had never even existed. “In the City” is an intriguing attempt at an epic, spoken-word rocker, but Bornell’s inability to write about anything besides one-night stands and late-night partying turns it into a rambling and overlong exercise in self-indulgence.
In the end, the hits just about equal the misses, and it’s easy to go either way on this one. If you’re looking for something you haven’t heard before, look elsewhere, but if you need a catchy and reasonably well-crafted party record to help you make some damn friends already, this ought to do just fine. At least until the next Strokes record comes out.