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The Strokes

The Strokes are fired up over their new CD

As one of the most heralded bands to arrive on the rock scene over the past three years, the Strokes haven't had many occasions to deal with criticism about their music.

But if there's been one complaint lodged by some music critics over the group's current CD, "Room on Fire," it's that the album sounds too much like the Strokes' 2001 debut, "Is This It." Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. can't understand that viewpoint. What's more, he said there were good reasons for the Strokes to want continuity between their two CDs.

"I don't think we had established ourselves enough as us to really (change the sound)," Hammond said. "I always wonder why people would say that. It's like, I don't know, if we change, what exactly would they want us to change to so drastically that it doesn't even sound like us anymore. couldn't imagine doing that."

So "Room on Fire" — which was greeted upon release by cover stories in both Rolling Stone and Spin magazines — very much retains many of the characteristics that created such a buzz about the Strokes to begin with. As with "Is This It," the band still features a cool, tightly wound sound that recalls a slightly poppier Velvet Underground with its angular melodies and minimalistic mix of guitars, bass and drums.

But there's no denying the quality of "Room on Fire." If anything the songs pack a bit more punch and are hookier than on the debut. For instance, "Automatic Stop" immediately demands attention as an insistent bass line spars with a variety of catchy guitar licks. "Between Love & Hate" takes off when the song kicks into a disco-ish refrain.

The band's sense of sonic adventure has also grown more pronounced on the current CD. Featuring production that is brighter and bolder overall than on "Is This It," the CD is filled with intriguing guitar tones — note the Moog-like lead guitar on "12:51" or the multiple guitar sounds employed on "Automatic Stop" — the inventive drum sounds — such as the machine gun-like opening beat on "Under Control" — and plenty of vocals from frontman Julian Casablancas that are manipulated into a condensed, almost monotone setting that brings an appealing tension to the music.

The attention to detail that shows up in the finished songs suggests that the Strokes put plenty of work into "Room On Fire." Hammond said that was exactly the case.

Originally, the band, which includes Casablancas, Hammond, guitarist Nick Valensi, bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti, hoped to record the CD with Nigel Godrich, who is best known for producing the ever-adventurous Radiohead.

But after a weeklong test run of working with Godrich, it was clear that he wasn't right for the band, Hammond said.

The band then turned to Gordon Raphael, who had produced "Is This It," and the pairing once again worked as the songs on "Room on Fire" came together.

"It was probably more intense," Hammond said, comparing the recording sessions for "Room on Fire" to the first CD. "As much as we had deadlines on the first record, it was different. Deadlines for the second one were a little more serious. So it was just, in the studio we just kind of closed the door and kind of got stuck in there for hours — two months of 15-hour days of recording. We did a couple of all-nighters mixing, and it really was intense."

The Strokes have enjoyed success as "Is This It" sold nearly 900,000 copies in the United States and about 2 million overall.

But the group's popularity has yet to reach the blockbuster level suggested by the buzz surrounding the band — although a new single, "Reptilia," has cracked the top 20 on the Billboard magazine modern-rock chart and could give "Room on Fire" an infusion of sales.

This raises the question of whether the hype surrounding the New York City-based group has worked for or against the band.

"You know, I try not to think about it in good or bad," Hammond said. "It's like what's happened to us is how we got put out, what we have to deal with. It's definitely not something we created. It's (something) the media has created. But the longer I sit there and try to think about it, the more time that's wasting to actually do something creative. You know, it happened. People heard about us. That's a good thing.

"And whatever else that might have come bad, hopefully we can change through just getting better and actually just writing better songs and making better records."

The Strokes play a sold-out show April 27 at the Pageant, 6161 Delmar Blvd. The Raveonettes open.

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