The album, Is This It isn’t just a bunch of New York garage cool kids, AKA The Strokes, noodling around and waiting for their invitation to the Lower East Side. It’s not just a nostalgic indie banger from the past that seems to rear its head every so often. It is one of the truly great alternative rock records of all time. The eleven songs would change the future of guitar music, and whilst it did inspire plenty of useless imitators, the musical landscape would look very different today without this album.
From the moment that the first line from the titular opener kicks in, you know that you’re in for a treat of the highest calibre. Getting to re-listen to this album in its entirety for the first time is something that I’d do silly things to do, and I’m sure I speak for a lot of people in saying that. While ‘Last Nite’ and ‘Someday’ are the headline stealers from the album, the whole record is an enthralling ride that ends in raucous fashion with the timeless ‘Take It Or Leave It’.
“I just wanted to write music that could touch people,” said Casablancas of the record. He can be certain of that, as the eleven covers of the album’s songs below prove. “[As] a songwriter,” the singer continues, “you play a few chords and sing a melody that’s been done a thousand times, and now you’re a singer-songwriter. I think it takes a little more than that to do something that matters. And I wish I could write a song where all the parts work. When you hear a song like that, it’s like finding a new friend.”
Easily regarded as the most important album of the 21st century, guitar music was flailing by the time of the millennium. The Strokes didn’t so much pick it up off the floor but rather thrashed around in the gutter a bit, and aside from the rhythmic brilliance that splashing about in the mire produced, they very importantly made it cool again. While a term like ‘cool’ might seem frivolous, there is far more depth to it than any cynics would care to accept.
It takes a keen eye on culture and a depth of originality to seize the seething passions of youth, thrives on naïve recklessness, colours it in the sound of the New York rock music that inspired you in the first place, and make the sort of art that usurps the status quo and spawns a new generation of its own. That generation can be heard below.
We’re bringing you the eleven tracks on The Strokes album Is This It covered by some of your favourite artists.
The Strokes album Is This It covered:
‘Is This It’ – Peter, Bjorn and John
When Stereogum recruited their nearest and dearest indie pals to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the band’s seminal album, this cover stuck out among the pack, largely because it arrived with such a piercing lead line. While Albert Hammond Jr. was famed for his incisive notes, Peter Bjorn and John deliver something closer to a Scandinavian Suicide recreation.
The indie-pop outfit have been contemporaries of The Strokes for most of their career but found a solid audience following the indie explosion’s arrival. The band are happy to pay tribute to the foursome then, but this cover feels like a huge departure from the original, replacing the swaggering confidence of Casablancas with a nervous vulnerability.
It only adds more gravitas to the final solo when it comes crashing down to confirm the vibrant difference between the bands.
‘Modern Age’ – Chelsea Wolfe
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Another track taken from Stroked, the Chelsea Wolfe cover of The Strokes second single on Is This It, ‘Modern Age’ is taken about as far from the band’s seminal sound as is possible to do. Brooding and moody like a misty moor, Wolfe elaborates on the track’s intensity and kicks it into overdrive.
Feeling closer to a spiritual experience than a jaunty indie banger, we can’t imagine Casablancas and co. ever had such an adaptation of their song in their minds. It’s not exactly the kind of dancefloor filler it was, but there’s something utterly captivating about the Wolfe version of the track.
‘Soma’ – Frankie Rose
A song written about Aldous Huxley’s unique composition was always destined to become a background dreamer for the rest of the album. An underrated indie banger, the song usually falls by the wayside of the rest of the record. As such, it means only a few covers exist.
However, Frankie Rose’s contribution as part of the 2011 compilation album Stroked is simply beautiful. Naturally adorned with Rose’s perfect vocal, the track is elevated into something far more ethereal than the original and, perhaps, more befitting of the subject matter at hand.
‘Barely Legal’ – Real Estate
Featuring in Alex Turner’s (perhaps the biggest Strokes fan you know) soundtrack for Submarine, Real Estate’s cover of ‘Barely Legal’ was one of the high points of Stroked when it was released in 2011. A song that so effortlessly captured the intensity of the original release delivered by a band who were there when it all kicked off.
Though it is easy to see how the album really kicks into gear with ‘Someday’ so clearly flecked with the pop sensibilities of golden age rock as it was, there’s a special place in most Strokes fans’ hearts for ‘Barely Legal’ as it builds the pressure to an explosion. Pacy and punchy, the original is a powerhouse entrance to the meat and bones of the album.
However, Real Estate turns the song into a lazy and laconic drift down the river of nostalgia. Golden-hued and gilded with respect, the cover is a beauty.
‘Someday’ – Julia Jacklin
Thank the Lord for Triple J’s Like A Version, a show which has produced some of the greatest indie covers we’ve ever heard. And we’d bet the station has rarely seen a song performed with such potent honesty as when Julia Jacklin stepped up to cover the iconic Is This It track ‘Someday’. Ask most fans of The Strokes, and this song will be included in their top five songs from the quartet.
It’s jangling summer evening sound soundtracked partiers across the globe, but we’d go as far as to suggest that Jacklin does a great job of matching it by flipping it upside down. Jacklin performs the track with timeless ease that suggests she’s not only sung it before — in the shower, on the bus, at home with her headphones on — but felt the very vibrating loneliness she uses to punctuate the song’s sadder sentiments.
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The slurring delivery of Casablancas on the original has always hidden the more poignant moments of the track, allowing the melody’s momentum to guide the listener. Still, Jacklin hits every word with powerful veracity and a simply stunning vocal performance.
‘Alone, Together’ – Austra
Though the album is often regarded as one of the 21st century’s greatest “play through” albums — meaning you don’t need to skip a single track — there are, of course, songs that are preferred to others. It means that ‘Alone, Together’, the indie jaunt that follows the landmark single ‘Last Nite’, has had very few covers over the years.
There’s no doubt, however, that even if there were hundreds to choose from that, we’d land on Austra’s gothic-electro version of the track created for the aforementioned Stroked compilation record.
Angular and disorientating, Casablancas’ lyrics feel like they’re being spat out by The Knife after a night on the powders. It’s an alarmingly brilliant cover that leaves you wondering why Austra haven’t been more prevalent.
‘Last Nite’ – Adele
Before becoming an undoubted global superstar, Adele was a singer-songwriter trying to make it in a predominantly indie world. The rock ‘n’ roll revolution started by The Strokes had swept into the mainstream with the ease of one smoky breath. It meant that the BRIT school graduate would have to find her own niche within the industry, namely, her supreme talent.
Adele’s grasp of almost any song is more than impressive, but the way she transforms The Strokes breakthrough single is imposing. An instant classic upon release, ‘Last Nite’ confirmed The Strokes as the saviours of American guitar music, sweeping away the debris of nu-metal with a jangle-pop jaunt and the devilish smile of a late-night whisky chaser. Somehow, Adele makes it her own.
Paying homage to the original with good wishes only, Adele takes the track into her own powerful pop realm for a scintillating rendition of the indie dancefloor filler.
‘Hard to Explain’ – Adel Ward
A song like ‘Hard to Explain’ relies heavily on the energy of the band. The track is buoyed by Albert Hammond Jr’s unique lead lines and only moves forward with the rest of the gorup’s contributions. It, therefore, makes it a very difficult song to reduce to its barest bones. However, YouTuber Adel Ward delivers a truly sensational rendition of the song.
Whereas the original is bombastic and refuses to lie down, Ward’s cover is gentle and carefully cultivated with authenticity. Of course, Ward’s vocals make Casabalnacas’ contributions feel a little on the paltry side, but it is the joy with which she plays that truly shines.
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A single acoustic performance that nobody thought was necessary suddenly becomes vital even if she does forget to breathe.
‘New York City Cops’ – Jack White
One of the most fearsome moments on the album comes with the no-holds-barred brutality of ‘New York City Cops’. The NYPD may not be famed for their bedside manner, but Casablancas and co. left their audience in no doubt which side of the fence The Strokes landed on when it came to law enforcement. Such a potent track has scared plenty of people off ever covering the song.
That means we’re going to bend the rules just slightly and, instead of giving you a full-blown cover, we’re going to share our favourite cover-adjacent performance from Jack White. The White Stripes guitarist joined the band for an anecdote-worthy performance that would blow an indiehead to the moon and back.
“We’d like to welcome our friend, Jack White,” says Casablancas as he stares at the crowd from his position of injury, sitting on a stool. Naturally, White lands with aplomb and delivers killer riffs that only the boys in blue could manage to beat.
‘Trying Your Luck’ – Deradoorian
Another member of the Stroked contingent, the Los Angeles musician Angel Deradoorian picks up the penultimate song on the record, ‘Trying Your Luck’. It’s the song on the album that slows down and takes account of the world around them. It not only features some of Casablancas’ finest lyrics but vocal performance too.
Under the direction of the Dirty Projectors member, the track is given a dub and reggae tone that few could have imagined works but surely does. It drifts along the airwaves, making purposeful points as it goes, and eventually settles as a fine reminder of the quality songwriting that belies the band’s nonchalant image.
Unlike anything you’ve heard of The Strokes before.
‘Take It or Leave It’ – Arctic Monkeys
“I just wanted to be one of The Strokes/ Now look at the mess you made me make,” the words of the Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner as part of their recent album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. It’s not really surprising either. It’s a story that we’d bet was true for most teenagers who found the garage rock revivalists’ New York charm too much to bear. Having both been thrown into the limelight shortly after beginning their careers, they have travelled similar paths.
It means the Sheffield boys have shared a few Strokes covers in their time, most notably when touring the aforementioned record, but this cover of ‘Take It Or Leave It’ from 2007, in the salad days of the group, is particularly brilliant and worthy of its place on the list.
Taken from French television, it was a somewhat brave move for the newly anointed kings of rock to pay tribute to their predecessors, but that’s just how massive The Strokes were. The Sheffield boys give the most honest account of a fan favourite with this searing performance.