Rolling Stone magazine calls the Strokes the best young rock band on the planet, which is strange because the New York quintet wasn't even convincing as the best young rock band on the bill Wednesday at the Hollywood Palladium.
That's not as much a put-down as it might appear, however, because Kings of Leon, the other band on the bill, is a sizzling, young Southern rock outfit that plays with the instrumental precision and force of the Allman Brothers Band in its prime.
The group's songs touch on the weariness and disillusionment of troubled souls who have spent a lot of time among the exiles on Main Street.
Although the Kings are still below most people's radar in this country, their debut album, "Youth & Young Manhood," is a bestseller in England, where they are being hailed as part of a passionate new wave of bands that is refocusing attention on rock's classic values.
It was the Strokes who helped kick off this movement in England in 2001 when they were embraced by critics and fans desperate for a break from the endless anger and rage of the post-grunge and rap influences in rock.
Besides sporting a chic, thrift-store image that radiated the New York rock cool of the '60s and '70s, the Strokes wrote about youthful confusion and awakening in spare, easy-to-absorb, guitar-heavy songs reminiscent of an earlier New York rock landmark, the Velvet Underground.
It was excitement over the Strokes that led critics and fans, here and in England, to seek out other fresh rock alternatives with a strong sense of history, which led to an impressive parade of bands, including Detroit's White Stripes, Sweden's Hives, Australia's Vines and, most recently, Kings of Leon.
As such, Wednesday's capacity audience welcomed the Strokes as conquering heroes, generating such enthusiasm on key songs that there was even some body surfing near the stage.
To their credit, the Strokes have grown immeasurably as a live act since their last visits here, when they seemed restrained and aloof. Most of the group still tends to stay in the shadows, but lead singer Julian Casablancas now reaches out aggressively to the audience, sometimes screaming the vocals rather than following the monotone style of the Velvets' Lou Reed.
Yet Wednesday's performance didn't erase the nagging concern raised by the band's debut album, "Is This It." From the start, it was clear that this group was blessed with more hooks than a fisherman's case. But there is a certain hollowness beneath those frequently catchy melodies and guitar lines.
The challenge of the band's new album, "Room on Fire," which is due in stores Tuesday, is to back those hooks with songs that have more distinctiveness and depth. Casablancas, who writes the words and music, is in the tradition of songwriters such as Kurt Cobain who seem to mistrust lyrics that rhyme too neatly and stick too closely to Lennon-McCartney formality. Life isn't tidy, so why should songs be?
But Cobain was able to come up with images that spoke of life's confusions and desires in ways that were artful and revealing. Casablancas isn't blessed with that same gift, which leaves the images often arbitrary and cold.
Instead of the mystery and daring of the Velvet Underground, the rock model that the new album most frequently brings to mind is the Cars, which had a marvelous feel for hooks in "My Best Friend's Girl," "Shake It Up" and other songs, but today seem relatively shallow.
It's not that the Strokes' new songs -- most of which were played Wednesday -- are modeled on the Cars (the influences stretch from the Velvets to the Beach Boys to the Jesus & Mary Chain), but there's a similar glossiness and lack of daring.
The Strokes first captured the pop world's attention by reminding it of some of the best of what rock was. To move forward, the Strokes need to better show what rock can be. In the new album, they seem in many ways content to simply stand still.
That may work for them commercially. The probing Velvet Underground didn't sell many records, but it influenced countless bands. The Cars sold millions of records without influencing many people at all.
It's the mystery and wonder that are missing in the Strokes' songs, and that's why they have seen the Stripes pass them by as the most exciting and creative young American band. The Stripes' Jack White draws on rock's roots in blues and country, but he weaves them into songs and a persona that are thrillingly unique.
Kings of Leon needs to expand its gallery of shabby characters and work on its live show. With his Prince Valiant hairstyle and stiff posture, lead singer Caleb Followill seems like a cardboard stand-up from a '70s rock bin in a novelty store. It might be too much to ask him to get a haircut, but it would be helpful if he could loosen up a bit and move about.
There's no denying the man can sing, mixing a Tom Petty drawl with a Gregg Allman rasp, as he tries to keep up with the spectacular, locomotive power of the rhythm section, which consists of brothers Nathan and Jared Followill on drums and bass, respectively, and cousin Matt Followill on lead guitar.
For the Strokes, there is still time to put some meat on those pop hooks and fulfill the expectations surrounding them. Until then, they are more likely to be remembered a decade from now as Ric Ocasek rather than Lou Reed.