2003 - Rough Trade Records - 33 minutes

Here comes the tricky part. Almost every band has at least one good effort in them, and The Strokes' debut 'Is This It' was damn fine. Following up a good first act though has always been a precarious process, and better bands than The Strokes have messed it up. Playing it safe is often the preferred option, and these well heeled, poorly nourished New Yorkers obviously agree.

Barely more than half an hour long, 'Room on Fire' lacks the spontaneous vibrancy of its predecessor, and often has a much more subdued feel to it. Notoriously tight-lipped about his lyrics, front man Julian Casablancas' preoccupations (sex, drugs, people) are the same, but this time it feels like the morning after the night before. The Strokes are the guys who always get the girl, but it seems the fun has gone out of the chase.

Musically, it's still guitars all the way. 'Reptilia', especially in Nikolai Fraiture's bass lines, has positive echoes of The Jam; single '12:51' would have shone even on 'Is This It', and 'I Can't Win' shows glimpses of the 'screw you' attitude that The Strokes have constantly exuded since they swaggered out of the Big Apple two years ago.

But too many songs are just too average, and at least a third of the record limps by unnoticed. With an album as short as this, that's a bit much. Throughout, Casablancas' vocals remain just a couple of steps short of indecipherable, and at times you'll be feeling flat where you were once feeling exhilarated.

'Room On Fire' could have been far worse, and it definitely works its way into your consciousness with each listen. But while it's certainly not a step backwards, it's hardly a great leap forward either. Standing still won't be an option next time round.

Tom Grealis

Tracklisting: What Ever Happened? - Reptilia - Automatic Stop - 12:51 - You Talk Way Too Much - Between Love and Hate - Meet Me In The Bathroom - Under Control - The Way It Is - The End Has No End - I Can't Win