In 2001, the Strokes transcended the New York club scene in a flash. They became international rock stars, selling 1 million copies of their RCA debut "Is This It" in the United States alone, accordin

In 2001, the Strokes transcended the New York club scene in a flash. They became international rock stars, selling 1 million copies of their RCA debut "Is This It" in the United States alone, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The photogenic quintet were tagged poster boys for a much-ballyhooed new, energetic rock movement that included the Hives and the Vines, and later, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand and the Killers.

But when the group offered up more of the same on 2003's "Room on Fire," sales suffered. The set has shifted 575,000 units to date domestically, and it raised the question were the Strokes a casualty of hype, or was it just the sophomore slump?

RCA is hoping to reverse gears as it preps a new Strokes album, "First Impressions of Earth," for an unusual Jan. 3 street date. "The first record was done quickly because we didn't know any better. It was our exact set list, in order," guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. recalls. "The second one, we were trying to get something different, but we didn't have the time.

"This one, we didn't want to do that again," he adds. "We said, 'Let's get our own equipment and just sit in the studio.' If it takes a month or two years, whatever."

At the urging of producer David Kahne, vocalist Julian Casablancas is clearly audible above the instruments for the first time, singing with previously unheard power on tracks like "Juicebox" and "Fear of Sleep." And while songs like "You Only Live Once" and the ultra-poppy "Razorblade" are classic Strokes, others, like the Mellotron-only "Ask Me Anything," are quite different than their predecessors.

"These songs have definitely pushed all of our abilities," Hammond says. "I felt like we had to find something that would make people listen to the songs more and not focus on the 'sound.'"