Like the Strokes' first two efforts, "First Impressions of Earth" is a treasure that avails its gifts upon the third or fourth listen rather than immediate fructose for the ear. Guitarist Nick Valensi continues his impressive trajectory into the stratosphere of modern-rock technical masters with some fearsome and adventurous lead work - while complements Albert Hammond's Christmas-time chiming chords - and we are treated to the usual slightly off-kilter but rock-solid (and ever-hardening) studio consistency from bassist Nikolai Fraiture and the requisite drum machine-styled rattle from Fab Moretti. The songwriting has been urged up a notch in beauty and quality, and there are some great `70s AM-radio major scale resolutions and particularly phenomenal codas for the tracks. Many songs at first contact appear to be slow and calculated, but they reveal themselves to be just as artful as we have come to expect from the Strokes. Unlike those of their many college-rock imitators, the Strokes' new songs are all sophisticated without being museum pieces; the album consists of 14 living and breathing reptiles that will soon render extinct Franz Ferdinand, The Killers and the other Nu-Wavers. New producer David Kahne has somehow retained much of the band's NYC art-rock aesthetic while adding a welcome veneer of studio polish. Singer Julian Casablancas appears to have been successfully challenged to sing without his walkie-talkie-thru-a-payphone effect and brings out some towering performances that elbow their way up to the front of the mix.
"Juice Box" throbs with its nimble Munsters-theme bass line before giving way to traditional sneery Strokesian sections, a la "Is This It" cleaned up with a mop.
"You Only Live Once" sounds like the second part of a "Room On Fire" double-A side, replete with Cars-styled vocals and guitars.
"Heart In A Cage" rages into being with cascading scales from Valensi, and Casablancas' usual sense of lyrical frustration.
"Razor Blade" swaggers in with its lazy reggae beat, suggesting an even more tuneful sequel to "When It Started" from "Is This It." A fine candidate for the second single after "Juicebox."
"On the Other Side" is a stripped and tripped haunter with a soulful, meandering Sam Cooke chorus that will delight fans of "Under Control" from "Room On Fire."
"Vision of Division" rollicks in with rocking chords that suggest Gomez or Blur.
"Ask Me Anything is a grower" - the usual enigmatic lyrical fare from Julian (read: "Don't be a coconut, God is trying to talk to you") backed by an interesting Mellotron-sounding loop from Valensi in the background. "I've got nothing to say" lament gets a tad stale after the first dozen incantations.
"Electricityscape" is another dark-to-lit puzzler.
"Killing Lies" has the drone of a DVD menu left on by your lazy and asleep roommate, but has that cute video-game affectation that endears us to the Postal Service and Beck's Gameboy remixes.
"Fear of Sleep" feels like it was written with its title afflicting the author, but it really takes off with its "You're no fun" coda.
"15 Minutes" is another slow-burner that goes on for about as long as its title (or so it seems), but displays some nice twinkling arpeggios from the guitars and a NYC subway-paced ending.
"Ize of the World" kicks off with a metal meltdown like "Take It Or Leave It" and "The End Has No End" (from their first two albums, respectively) and then pushes and shoves its way into some friendly and messy CBGBs rock chords and the requisite catchy melodies. In fact, it would be comfortably nestled somewhere in the second half of either of their first two albums. Sounds like Albert stumbling thru the solo.
"Evening Sun" starts off with some old-fashioned Hammond - downstroking rhythm guitar - and hammering hi-hat from Moretti, all with a bit of the Nintendo chord changes we heard on "Killing Lies."
"Red Light" is an uncharacteristically cheerful romp that closes out the album.