Hype is an honest critic’s worst enemy. I mean, what could I possibly write about the Strokes’ new Room on Fire (RCA) that would ring true? If I praise them for their ingenious hooks, you’ll dismiss me as a dupe, another cog in the promotional machine; if I criticize them as chilly formalists, you’ll lump me in with the knee-jerking backlashers. Contrary to widely circulated claims, the band’s 2001 debut Is This It didn’t “save rock” for or from anything or anyone–it was just a great power-pop record snazzed up with carefully selected retro fashion accessories. Iggy, Television, Velvets, sure, it was all in there…like that should be a big deal 20, 30 years after the fact. Cripes, nowadays when a teenie pro like Hillary Duff wears a CBGB T-shirt in a video you can’t even sneer with any certainty that she doesn’t know what it stands for. Anyway, I bet if the Strokes would quit recording their vocals through that weird filter, they’d start garnering comparisons to the Romantics. This time around, Julian Casablancas struggles desperately to sound desperate–seems he’s not too crazy about getting older, poor kid. When he screams “You’re not trying hard enough” on “Reptilia” and the drums kick in double time, the band’s just one excitedly flubbed note away from sounding like they’re really going wild. But guitarist Nick Valensi will have none of that: he plays like he’d be more comfortable sitting in with Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers than Johnny Thunders’s. He even imitates a synthesizer on “12:51,” a tune that sounds like a tip of the hat to the Cars (another great band with a bored front man that inspired an inordinate amount of debate about its place in history). Sunday, October 19, 7:30 PM, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence; 312-666-6667 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Colin Lane.