Albums of the decade No 4: The Strokes – Is This It

At a time when nu-metal and dad-rock ruled the airwaves, the Strokes rewired rock'n'roll with irresistible songs, inventive guitars and arty arrogance

More top 10 albums of the decade

The impact of the first Strokes album was immediate and dramatic. But if private school-educated New Yorkers Julian Casablancas, Albert Hammond Jr, Nick Valensi, Nikolai Fraiture and Fabrizio Moretti hadn't followed their lo-fi punk-rock instincts, their world-changing moment might never have happened.

Despite Rough Trade's initial advice, and sessions in England with Pixies producer Gil Norton, Casablancas and co insisted on recording their album in producer Gordon Raphael's tiny basement studio, amid the sleaze of Lower East Side Manhattan's Avenue A, with nothing but a few pictures from the Victoria's Secret lingerie catalogue taped on a wall for distraction. The results were appropriately dangerous and subterranean: a ragged yet elegant wall of guitar sound led by Casablancas's croon, all drenched in a claustrophobic, after-hours hedonism that perfectly captured the jaded shrug of the album's title.

Released in August 2001, at a point where nu-metal and sub-Oasis "dad-rock" ruled the guitar roost, Is This It's irresistible songs, inventive guitars and savvy rewiring of the Velvet Underground and CBGB's decadence, reintroduced fans to the benefits of sexy songs, simple punchy production, arty arrogance, and, with the Motown and Tom Petty-influenced Last Nite, the joys of making rock'n'roll records that can fill a dancefloor. Suddenly, lumbering masculinity was out, and post-punk alienation, good clothes and guitars you can dance to were in.

The musical and visual debt that the Libertines, Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys owe to the Strokes is obvious. But noughties pop stars who are gleefully rediscovering disco, electro and synth-pop also started here, as the commericial success of Is This It made every forgotten art-pop experiment of the late 70s and early 80s instantly hip and ripe for reinvention.

Buy this Sunday's Observer for the full top 50 countdown, plus an interview with the winner


Garry Mulholland

The GuardianTramp

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