Album: Is This It
. . .
Hey Millennials, wanna feel old? Is This It has been out for over 20 years! Hey Zoomers, wanna feel ignorant? The whole “Nepo Baby” discussion y’all recently been having happened around this record when it came out. Hey Boomers, ahhh never mind.
There was SO MUCH HYPE around this album before it actually came out in the United States, at least partially because of RCA’s now-antiquated strategy of releasing it in different territories at different times. So it was released in Europe in July, Japan on August 22, the U.K. on August 27, and the original American release date of the CD was September 25 — with a different cover from the rest of the world because we’re fucking prudes — with the vinyl actually dropping two weeks earlier, on September 11th. Oops.
Which is why the American CD release was pushed out to October 9, because they needed to replace the ACAB anthem “New York City Cops” with another song, which they couldn’t do with the vinyl, of course, but in 2001, nobody was buying vinyls anyways.
That said, despite all of the hype, all of the anticipation, and all of the post 9/11 madness, Is This It totally delivered the goods: fast, short, catchy two-guitar songs about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, or at least sex and drugs. This is exemplified by “The Modern Age,” which starts off with the guitars of Albert Hammond Jr and Nick Valensi perfectly bisected by drummer Fab Moretti’s snare work, creating a speedy groove over which singer Julian Casablancas uttered his lyrics.
Oh, in the sun, sun, having fun, it’s in my blood
I just can’t help it
Don’t want you here right now, let me go
Oh, let me g-g-g-g-g-g-g-go
Honestly, outside of the “let me go” part, I don’t really know the lyrics of “The Modern Age” all that much: not only is there that weird fuzzed-out muffled mic sound obscuring Casablanca’s vocals — clearly a choice — I’m just getting off on the energy and the groove, and the guitars which somehow sound both shiny and scuzzy at the same time.
It’s all good, but what puts “The Modern Age” over the top is Fab Moretti’s drumming and Nick Valensi’s guitar. As it cycles through the choruses, Moretti lets off the throttle just a little bit, to the point where during the guitar solo, he’s not even hitting his snare at all, which gives Valensi’s utterly chaotic guitar solo a lighter-than-air feel, as the notes all tumble over each other, seemingly surprised to even exist at all. It’s utterly tremendous, and when it’s over, both Moretti and Valensi return to the groove, which is somehow even harder, exciting even Casasblancas, who hoots and hollers over the rest of the song.
In its original form, “The Modern Age” was great enough to incite the bidding war that led to the hype, but re-recorded for Is This It, it’s the song that drives you into the rest of the album, holding down the incredibly important “second song on the album” slot.
While “The Modern Age” wasn’t released as a single, it was released as a video — directed by Roman Coppola, nepo baby haters — and was the first song they ever played on American TV, as well.
“The Modern Age”
“The Modern Age” Official Music Video
“The Modern Age” Live on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, 2001
“The Modern Age” Live on MTV, 2002
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Eric Thau says
An old friend linked me to this article when I wrote something of similar enthusiasm for Voice of Harold on my FB page, in response to a Rick Beato YouTube on what might be REM’s greatest song. For me, it will always be Voice of Harold.
So thanks for this very enjoyable essay on the subject.
Jim Connelly says
Thank you, Eric!!!