“Hard to Explain” isn’t much, really. It’s built on a backbone of stately downstrokes. It’s a rhythm guitar that plays every chord it possibly can and a chorused and overdriven lead guitar that finds 15 hooks that fit the key and plays them all. It’s Casablancas writing verses, a pre-chorus, and a pre-pre-chorus that all fight each other for the most instantly recognizable. Then the actual chorus comes, and the drums turn live– those driving splashing cymbals– and suddenly “I missed the last bus/ I’ll take the next train” is seared into your brain.
Its genius is that it’s the song everyone wanted to write. It’s the culmination of every band that’s ever practiced on a couple of cheapo Fender amps in someone’s garage or basement, playing some cool drum machine preset they found, broken, in a thrift store, saying “When we find a drummer, man” to each other. In fact, the entire garage revival of the past decade is probably directly indebted to the track. Like an infinite number of monkeys will eventually write Shakespeare, an infinite number of garage bands banging away on Telecasters would have eventually wrote “Hard to Explain”. The Strokes were just the ones that stumbled into it.”