There was a time, for a brief half hour or so, when The Strokes were the biggest band on the planet. This would have been ten years ago, around the time when début album Is This It catwalked into your local record emporium decked out in a skinny white tie, skinny boy jeans, and the ubiquitous pair of pristine red Converse.
At the time I was pretty cynical about nice shiny guitar combos making nice shiny garage-lite music. Sneering, even, dismissing the whole shtick as a triumph for derivative, pretty-boy marketing over substance and credibility. And although my opinion has mellowed somewhat in the intervening decade (these days I’m far more immune to the scuttle-bug machinations of musical fashion – age has that effect, I suppose), I can still pick up on the cause + effect behind such umbrage. A matter of timing, perhaps, as if The Strokes were merely opportunists (or at least had the temerity to utilize that window of opportunity), when another band issued a far more supple, textured and invigorating garage rock statement – only this was a few years previously, and the welcome was that of the shrug of relative indifference. 1995, ’96, ’97 – wasn’t the time for garage rock, apparently.
Jonathan Fire*Eater released just the two albums, songs propelled by an eager, deliberate roughness that on occasion would veer towards the frenetic. Against a driving, almost-groovy Hammond sound: tight tom-tom heavy stick-work, a subversive, whining guitar, and in vocalist Stewart Lupton, a snarling, lupine attraction. There’s a swagger to the overall sound, perhaps even a slight, slight edge of the feral… and yes, it’s all as equally derivative as anything you’ll find on Is This It, plus at the time JF*E were just as hyped as those I’m comparing them with (as said: wrong place, wrong time – into the 2000’s, and three-fifths of the band would achieve far wider success as The Walkmen). But their sound still stands up to repeated listening nearly fifteen years later – which to a boy still possessing the penchant for skinny white ties, skinny boy jeans, and the ubiquitous pair of pristine red Converse, is undeniably a good thing.
Jonathan Fire*Eater / When The Curtain Calls For You