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CD reviews: The Strokes and The Weakerthans

If Major League Baseball wanted to salvage poor ratings for last month's Yankees/Marlins World Series, it should've asked The Strokes to play a hometown national anthem in the Bronx.

If Major League Baseball wanted to salvage poor ratings for last month's Yankees/Marlins World Series, it should've asked The Strokes to play a hometown national anthem in the Bronx.

The skinny quintet have been Gotham's hippest goodwill ambassadors, lighting up the New York nightlife in the face of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's martial law smoking ban.

On their second CD, the properly mussed media darlings sidestep a sophomore slump by club hopping from the CBGB's angst of "Is This It" to the Studio 54 groove of "Room on Fire." Trading in the post-punk energy of their debut for post-disco beats on the follow-up, the socialite slackers dial up danceable tracks and more after-bar anthems.

From the jangly, reggae riff of "Automatic Stop" (which sounds suspiciously like the intro to Men at Work's "It's a Mistake") to the pseudo synth on "12:51," guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. takes the band from '70s-era malaise to early '80s excess. The driving "The End Has No End" could easily play over closing credits to VH1's Reagan-era flashback, "I Love the '80s."

Hammond and Nick Valensi's guitars pick staccato rhythms, playing off Fab Moretti's punchy drumming which takes on a dance floor shuffle with "Between Love & Hate."


Still, the focal point remains male-waif Julian Casablancas' weary wail.

Without ever enunciating, the front man warbles about the pitfalls of fame when he opens the disc with the groan "I want to be forgotten/And I don't want to be reminded" on "What Ever Happened?"

Playing the frustrated rake, Casablancas croons about missed connections and party hook-ups in "12:51," "I Can't Win" and "Meet Me in the Bathroom."

Even if the Weakerthans lived south of the border, they could never generate the kind of paparazzi buzz the Strokes gather. What the Winnipeg quartet lacks in image and lineage, they make up for with craftsmanship.

Sounding like younger, snottier brothers of They Might Be Giants, The Weakerthans take post-punk guitar pop to graduate levels on the literary "Reconstruction Site."

The disc features more quotations and literary and historical references than a thesis paper.

Ranging from alt-country two-steps like the title track and "Benediction," a duet with Canadian chanteuse Sarah Harmer, to the churning guitars of "Plea From a Cat Named Virtue" and "The Prescience of Dawn," singer John K. Samson leads listeners on a literary tour of his emotional landscape.

The stand-out is "One Great City," the greatest hometown kiss-off since The Replacements' "The Regular." A cross-section of overheard laments about the city's cultural legacy cries "The Guess Who suck, the Jets were lousy anyway," only to manifest in the chorus, "I hate Winnipeg."


Both discs are encouraging steps forward, even if The Strokes move laterally from club to club while The Weakerthans enroll in grad school.

The Strokes trade in their vintage T-shirts and one-size-too-small leather jackets for better, but still grubby duds, and The Weakerthans throw on another elaborate sweater to weather out music fads.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

"Room on Fire"

The Strokes

RCA Records

Three out of four stars

"Reconstruction Site"


The Weakerthans

Epitaph Records

Three out of four stars


- The Strokes are scheduled to appear on NBC's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" tonight. The show begins at 11:30 p.m. on KVLY (Ch. 11 in Fargo-Moorhead).

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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