The Strokes vs. The White Stripes

With one band reunited, and the other broken up, we rank both discographies in an epic battle royale of early 21st-century rock.

By Austin L. Ray

Yesterday, The Strokes released Angles, their fourth album — and first in five years — and consequently celebrated a decade of music-making. The one-time avatars of hip, New York City rock 'n' roll dropped their breakout debut, Is This It, in 2001, while at the same time, a young Detroit duo called the White Stripes was busy releasing what would be its own breakout record, White Blood Cells. Despite their stylistic differences, the two acts would go on to be heralded as the leaders of some sort of "Return Of Rock" movement circa the early '00s. Fast forward ten years, and The Strokes have lost most of their prominence, while The White Stripes recently announced that they will not be making music anymore. This seemed like the perfect time for a valedictory assessment. Which band made more of an impact?

10. The Strokes, First Impressions of Earth (2006)

With rare exception, critics were kinder than they should've been to this hit-or-miss platter of mediocrity upon its release. The subsequent years have not been as kind to First Impressions of Earth. Where the Stripes were soaking up the limelight on LP3, the Strokes were stepping away from it with an album whose liner notes are more worth revisiting than the music itself. The band's tried-and-true retro formula wasn't broke, and when they tried to fix it, the result was uneven, bordering on annoying.

Listen: "You Only Live Once"

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9. The Strokes, Angles (2011)

Five years passed between First Impressions and this week's Angles, which is the same amount of time it took The Strokes to release their first three albums altogether. Moreover, to hear the band tell it, this record was decidedly not fun to make. It kind of sounds that way too. A mix of solid, quintessentially Strokesian numbers ("Under Cover of Darkness" is the band's best song since Room on Fire), slight but welcome changes of pace ("Metabolism"), and complete head-scratchers ("You're So Right" is, simply, so wrong), Angles is a step in the right direction following First Impressions, and hopefully not the band's last. "I feel like we have a better album in us, and it's going to come out soon," guitarist Nick Valensi told Pitchfork. Fingers crossed.

Listen: "Under Cover of Darkness"

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8. The White Stripes, Icky Thump (2007)

Jack White's lyrical wizardry may have been at its peak on what turned out to be the last Stripes album. But so too were his wandering musical impulses. Maybe he and Meg had simply become to big for their garage-rock britches — too distracted and too stretched out from years of success. While Icky Thump contains highlights both feral ("Rag and Bone") and subdued ("300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues"), it also somehow manages to feel both overly glossy and restrained, dressing up the simple songs that made the band great and robbing them of their grit.

Listen: "Rag and Bone"

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7. The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan (2005)

Certainly the most unorthodox album by either band, Get Behind Me Satan was a curious late-period release for a band that (it seems obvious in hindsight) was growing a bit tired of itself. Perhaps reacting to the two critical and commercial successes preceding it, or perhaps just reveling in its own quirks, Satan sprinkles rewarding oddities ("The Nurse") alongside more typical-if-cleaned-up Stripes fare ("My Doorbell") and classic bangers ("The Denial Twist," "Instinct Blues"). As fun as it is in parts, this record was the beginning of the end of the White Stripes.

Listen: "The Denial Twist"

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6. The White Stripes - Elephant (2003)

Unlike their New York brethren, the Stripes managed to build on their breakout release, 2001's White Blood Cells, releasing this crushing record that handily outsold its predecessor worldwide, albeit with the backing of a much larger label (V2, itself backed by Universal, as opposed to California indie label Sympathy for the Record Industry). The Detroit duo doesn't do much wrong here, rocking hard for much of this epic album, taking occasional detours for ballads ("In the Cold, Cold Night," "I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother's Heart") and one charming country closer ("Well It's True That We Love One Another"), all the while proving it can handle the pressures of a particularly hot spotlight.

Listen: "Seven Nation Army"

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5. The Strokes - Room on Fire (2003)

Although it wasn't quite as commercially successful as its predecessor, cut Room on Fire a break. After all, its predecessor was Is This It, easily one of the most talked-about albums of the decade. Even with that in mind, Room on Fire does quite well for itself, essentially repackaging the band's stunning debut with a few new flourishes. If you listen with the right set of ears, it's almost on par with Is This It, and even on its worst days, it still contains some of The Strokes' finest recorded moments.

Listen: "12:51"

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4. The White Stripes - The White Stripes (1999)

The first and unquestionably most aggressive record in The White Stripes oeuvre, the band's self-titled debut is unrelenting almost to a fault, piling rocker on top of rocker so much so that the occasional mid-tempo number or spooky Bob Dylan cover barely leaves the listener any breathing room. When Jack White screams, "Their ideas make me want to spit" on "The Big Three Killed My Baby," you can practically see the saliva gathering in the corners of his mouth. As if cracking a masochistic joke hilarious only to themselves, The White Stripes pack seventeen songs onto this frantic, overblown album. It's a test of sorts; if you can make it through this one, you'll easily get through — though perhaps ultimately wind up disappointed with — everything else they put to record.

Listen: "The Big Three Killed My Baby"

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3. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells (2001)

Despite its rushed early-2001 recording in a Memphis studio, White Blood Cells was The White Stripes' most polished record at the time of its release. It's also arguably the band's most consistent record period, containing a nice mix of malevolent-sounding rockers ("The Union Forever," "I Think I Smell a Rat"), gentle breathers ("We're Going to be Friends"), and clear singles ("Fell in Love With a Girl," "Hotel Yorba," "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground"). The White Stripes were noisier, prettier, and more epic than this at various times during their career, but they never made another album that resonated quite like White Blood Cells. Nor were their words ever again as prescient, for that matter, as the lyrics from "Little Room," which basically tell the band's story before much of it had even unfolded, in a scant fifty seconds.

Listen: "Fell In Love With A Girl"

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2. The White Stripes - De Stijl (2000)

The calm before the storm, De Stijl had the advantage of dropping a year before The White Stripes became a household name. As such, it's perhaps lauded a little over-exuberantly as the "Yeah, but have you heard this one?" record, but the fact remains that it's a damn fine, cohesive statement that touches on all of the band's strong points. From riff-rockers ("Hello Operator") to catchy pop songs ("You're Pretty Good Looking"), and breathless, adrenalized assaults ("Let's Build a Home") to bluesy dirges ("Little Bird"), De Stijl is a sampler of the band's myriad styles, and a fitting answer to the question, "What do The White Stripes do best?"

Listen: "Hello Operator"

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1. The Strokes - Is This It (2001)

Not many albums sound so ridiculously cool a full decade after their release. Further years will no doubt date Is This It, but I imagine the songs will still hold up in their effortlessly hip, indifferent way — a modus operandi at odds with much of The White Stripes' best material, which chooses to pound you into submission or charm you with its innocence. At once retro and somehow futuristic-sounding, Is This It was a revelation at the time of its release, even if it elicited more than a few eye rolls from older listeners. The Strokes' debut stands tall above the rest of the band's catalogue, documenting a simpler time for a group now surrounded by drama, expectations, and myriad side projects. It's a near-perfect portrait and an untouchable document of early '00s rock music.

Listen: "Last Nite"

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Austin L. Ray has spent the last decade writing for The A.V. Club, eMusic, Vulture, Spin and Paste, amongst others. He's also obsessed with Twitter, where he talks about music, makes jokes, links to dog photos, and sometimes offends people. Follow him.

Commentarium (37 Comments)

Mar 23 11 - 1:20am
TheGoldfish

I do not think it is fair to compare the two bands. They are great in their own ways. They have their strengths and weaknesses. They are two completely different types of music, and each album is unique.

Mar 23 11 - 7:46am
Francine

I lovet. It's not really about being fair, it's about being entertaining

Mar 23 11 - 3:50am
bizzaroRevten

A lead in: The Strokes ratings, summarized in order from oldest to newest: Sublime, Pretty Great, Mediocre, Painful but some what listenable.
The White Stripes : Greatest Density of Awesome, Whitmans Sampler of awesome, Pure Dirty Artwork for the ears, Equally Epic Epicness, Quirky Genius pants splooging (but a little tired now from so much awesome in my ears), and Poet Laureate concept explosion.
The Strokes: 4 steadily decreasing reviews.
The Stripes: 6 albums of kaliedoscopic praise with little in the way of diminishing returns.

I went on that elaborate and mocking rant as a lead into to my confusion. I am most decided biased here, as i'm guessing most people will be, towards The White Stripes, and with good reason. The writer really did assess all these albums with vitrol and a keen ear. What i can't quite understand is, other than recent news from both these bands, how anyone thought to compare the two side by side. Not only were The White Stripes more consistent, they put out more albums, more tracks, and didnt take 5 years to do it each time.
The Strokes never really hooked me in the first place, so maybe this is just rabid fanboy ranting. While i enjoyed a couple of their songs, most of the time i heard one album length song droning on about how bored the singer was with whatever. and if the writer is to be believed, thats what they kept doing, but worse each time to the point of painful.
Any sort of explination for how this came to be would gladly be read.

Mar 23 11 - 9:23am
PeterSmith

Well, back in '01, you couldn't really pick up a music magazine without reading about these two bands that were going to save us from Nickelback and Britney. At that time they were really anomalies, so we thought it would be interesting to compare their divergent paths in the decade since.

Mar 23 11 - 9:55am
Doug

How about tossing in Beck to the mix? Like the comparison, but place the Stokes on a higher plane. I would go listen to Angles again -- feel it is better described as innovative than head scratching. I hear the Ramones, Cars and classic IS This It Strokes in the new album. To know each band is to see them live. Julian is a true rock star in the classic Elvis sense of stage presence. Nice to have NYC back on the map again! Looking forward to the April 1 show! Appreciate the list -- at least you got the #1 right. ;-)

Mar 23 11 - 10:59am
reese

i think you're sort of bugging on this list, but that's ok. bug away.

also, i personally think angles is the strokeseses second best album, eff all the bee-ess.

Mar 23 11 - 11:01am
reese

i also have to credit los estrokes for going in a different direction after they failed so wondrously in doing so on 'first impressions of shyte'

Mar 23 11 - 1:39pm
Vinegar Bend

Erratic is as he is, Jack White is a genius and one of the few genuinely refreshing rock voices (and guitars) of his era. I have tried very hard to be impressed by The Strokes, to no avail.

Mar 23 11 - 2:38pm
ii

They did save me from Nickelback and Britney!!

Mar 23 11 - 3:33pm
john

Both bands suck. White Stripes rip off Flat Duo Jets, and Strokes have that one riff and Julian Casablancas' dead, passionless voice and questionable fashion sense.

Mar 24 11 - 12:12am
celestia

that is so sad. how do you wake up in the mornings?
"dead,passionless voice and questionable fashion sense"
you obviously have a lot of passion in your life.

Mar 25 11 - 11:32am
john

I wake up with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. And an erection for the whole world.

Mar 23 11 - 11:36pm
: D

This is like comparing Boston with The Stones or Digital Underground with Public Enemy. I'll let you work out which is which but one of the members is considered one of the top 50 guitarists of all time.

Mar 24 11 - 3:07am
Em

Love the Strokes, but c'mon.. The White Stripes made better albums and were WAY better live.

Though I've always thought that comparing bands to one another is a bit silly.

I'm glad of the existence of both.

Mar 24 11 - 9:24am
sweetfly

Elephant is one of the best rock records ever made . " There`s no home for you here " is just a flat out brilliant song . Jack White is a genius . Meg White is the luckiest girl on the planet who Jack took on a tremendous ride . The Strokes suck ... they had one decent record that was hyped beyond belief ...so what .

Mar 24 11 - 9:26am
frank

just reminds me why I so rarely play a song that's not 15 years old in the car.

Mar 24 11 - 9:52am
Jinna

Very odd comparison. Apples to oranges doesn't even approach it.

Mar 24 11 - 12:31pm
III

this a stupid idea and article. the strokes put out one good record, duh. and Jack and Meg have made so many. The strokes fell off after the first one. big time...

Mar 24 11 - 1:01pm
Sean

The Strokes can carry Jack White's guitar case, it's not even a comparison

white stripesss!!!!

Mar 24 11 - 2:48pm
Evan

I still don't understand how I am the only person who thinks that First Impressions of Earth was the Strokes best album. I'm disappointed with Angles.

Mar 24 11 - 3:43pm
PeterSmith

Check back tomorrow for more on that subject.

Mar 24 11 - 5:48pm
TAL

I never realized Meg had such nice boobies.

Mar 25 11 - 12:54am
Chuffy

Where the hell have you been?

Mar 25 11 - 4:54am
superiorbartendingsc

Really no contest here. White Stripes used grit and determination. Strokes used daddy's publicist

Dec 19 11 - 5:38pm
Hazuinf

that's an incredibly ignorant argument to make. Yes, Julian Casablancas has a rich background. If he had used 'Daddy's* publicist', so what? The records are still good. How they are advertised, or how they became successful, is irrelevant. It doesn't detract from the music.
But then, they didn't use 'daddy's publicist'. So your argument is pretty irrelevant. I may as well not have even dignified it with a counter-.

Aug 10 12 - 2:27am
mccartia

Not only is your argument irrelevant, it's fucking wrong. Julian had a pretty distant relationship with his father as his parent were divorced and he grew up with him mother and a step father (who is patially responsible for his taste in music) His father had absolutely nothing to do with any of the Strokes success.

Mar 25 11 - 4:49pm
strokesian number

How does one person's seemingly arbitrary ranking of two bands' albums tell us which had a "more of an impact"? And why are we never told (in the one paragraph introduction) what "more of an impact" even means?

Mar 30 11 - 2:52am
strokesian number

PS: There is also no concluding idea to this piece, nothing to wrap up whatever idea was trying to be conveyed. Who is the editor around here?

Mar 26 11 - 1:31am
one creative person

Truly creative, both as a solo innovator and collaborator. That's Jack White. The man is prolific. He's a worker, and gives the impression he is on a life's journey with music. He's also really uncoolly cool. His development is fun to hear. The Strokes are just cool and somewhat accomplished. But I don't want to be cool and accomplished and depressed.

thanks for the close reading and solid point, strokesian.

Mar 26 11 - 10:56pm
exiled on lake erie

The Strokes preen, posture and fuss before launching into largely forgettable frap.

The White Stripes come out swinging and never let go. Their music is pure and furious and elemental. Jack White is a treasure - a glorious freak with a thousand year-old soul. Meg White is adorably enigmatic - reminds me of Animal from the Muppets, yet with great boobs and furious sex appeal. The power of two forever!!
p.s. Thank beebus I finally saw the White Stripes play in Toronto a few years back. Still gobsmacked.

Mar 29 11 - 10:00pm
guirile

Queens of the Stone Age are much better than the Strokes. The only other rocker in the past 13 years to put out an equal quantity of quality music would be Jack White. And I'd say John Frusciante is equally as talented as both. I never was a big Strokes fan. Pretty much anything Josh or Jack touches is better than 95% of all other music out there. Just my opinion

Mar 30 11 - 2:53am
strokesian number

Is This It is the only good record on this list, for the record.

Mar 30 11 - 2:05pm
PHIL

SHouldn't have read this. Why was it written? I am so sad that the Stripes are officially done and I do take solace in the fact that the Strokes are still making decent records. I vehemently disagree with the author's appraisal of First Impressions of Earth and would also say that in the category of pure originality, De Stijl is a much more interesting album than Is This It. Ultimately it seemed like the writer wasn't too big a fan of either band's work and I feel that made his criticisms suspect. He also neglected to mention anything about the *crucial* aspect of the bands' live experience, in which category, the Stripes both maim and pummel the Strokes. I hope I never see this author at a bar or I will Von Bondie him.

Apr 13 11 - 4:33am
Gildas

At last, someone comes up with the "right" answre!

Jun 26 11 - 2:41pm
Utrecht

After reading the comments, I'm further disappointed in music fans of the past decade.
These aren't rival sport teams. These aren't tribes. These aren't two separate walks of life.
They're two bands. Both Julian and Jack have played/sung at each other's shows.
I appreciate both bands for what they are. The White Stripes were hard-hitting and gritty, leaving you punching walls.
The Strokes were/are slick and smooth, leaving you basking in Hammond's riffs.
Stop being petty. You sound like tweens arguing over Bruno Mars and Bieber.
I feel a serious hipster presence in this comment section.
Isn't that what we wanted to be saved from?
Room on Fire and First Impressions of Earth are under-appreciated.
I thought they were on par with Is This It. Maybe it's because didn't feel it was as fresh. They've heard it before.
Angles, I cannot defend. I almost threw the CD out of my car. 80's synth is not what made The Strokes a success.
I also thought De Stijl was also under-rated, but The White Stripes should have paced themselves. Too much, too fast. Made it difficult for anyone to even keep pace.
Jack White is a genius though. Probably the greatest guitar player that will grace our ears in a long time.
Is This It, to me, is still best album of the 00's.
Then again, this is music. Opinions, opinions, opinions.
Apples and oranges, friends. Stop fighting over who has the biggest hipster dick.

Aug 01 12 - 6:14am
Angles

I like the White Stripes alot! Just to start. Both bands are extremely influential on rock and roll. Both will be considered the "Zeppelin" or "The Who" of modern rock someday. However, I believe The Strokes are more influential than the Stripes. Not taking anything from Jack Whites amazing guitar skills but, the blues have been done before. It is hard to say that a blues based band is better than a band that has changed the sound of rock and roll like the Strokes have. Is This It? is maybe the album of our generation. And don't forget about how underrated Room On Fire perhaps, one of the most underrated albums ever. Right up there with Animals by Pink Floyd, Congratulations by MGMT and Bee Thousand by Guided By Voices. First Impressions is another underrated transitional album. And, Angles is an AMAZING album (give it a couple listens) Sings like Life Is Simple In The Moonlight and Machu Picchu are great tunes! I respect Jack White and I believe he Is the Bob Dylan of our generation but, The Strokes win this one because they have and are still changing the game P.S. Both are amazing live!!!!! Can't knock either live performances!

Aug 01 12 - 6:32am
Angles (again)

Songs* my bad. I'm typing on my phone. Oh and Fab Moretti is an animal on drums. Meg was nothing special!