The Strokes ‘Angles’ – Review

30 Mar

It’s been nearly five and a half years since The Strokes released their last album. For a band that never split up that’s a pretty long time, about as long as it took The Stone Roses to release ‘The Second Coming’, and we all know what happened there. To put that gap into perspective, when The Strokes released ‘Frist Impressions of Earth’ Arctic Monkeys hadn’t even put out an album – next month they will release their fourth. That band opened their debut with the line ‘anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment’, and the anticipation / disappointment ratio is something that has been playing on The Strokes minds as well. Tellingly ‘Angles’ opens with the line ‘I’m putting your patience to the test’ – you have no idea Julian, you have no idea.

It’s as if, to dilute the anticipation, The Strokes have been sabotaging the release of ‘Angles’, and if you’ve read any interviews with the band recently you probably have zero faith in this being a decent album. The group have always criticized their own records, but never this early; when they were promoting ‘Room on Fire’ in 2003 they expressed their disappointment with the way ‘Is This It’ sounded, then a couple of years later they conceded that ‘Room on Fire’ was rushed and inconsistent, and more recently the band have also been slagging off ‘First Impressions of Earth’. But this time around they have gotten ahead of themselves by criticising ‘Angles’ before it was even released! Nick Valensi told Pitchfork that ‘I feel like we have a better album in us, and it’s going to come out soon.’ Julian Casablancas said ‘there’s a bunch of stuff on the record I wouldn’t have done’. Hmmmm, doesn’t exactly bode well does it?

So what’s the diagnosis? The bad news is that ‘Angles’ is no ‘Is This It’ or ‘Room on Fire’, it doesn’t even want to be. But hold on – the good news is that this is an enjoyable and diverse collection of songs that expands the group’s sound whilst retaining most of what makes The Strokes unique. I know a lot of people were hoping for a bit more than ‘enjoyable’, I think deep down we were all  hoping they would save rock music once again, but the fact is that rock isn’t going to be saved by a bunch of 30+ year old dads – the superhero costumes just don’t fit them anymore.

The band acknowledged this fact when they told NME that they couldn’t provide exactly what fans wanted from this album – they’ve changed too much. This is evident in the album’s eclectic range of styles, from the reggae tinged swagger of ‘Macau Picchu’, to the gothic punk of ‘Metabolism’, and the synth pop of ‘Games’; Sometimes The Strokes sound like a different band. For the first half of the album this really works to their advantage, they sound completely refreshed and re-energized in comparison to the band that made the overproduced and overlong (but somehow still impressive) ‘First Impressions of Earth’.

Occasionally however the experimenting doesn’t pay dividends. I’m still undecided on the Nikolai’ penned track, ‘You’re so Right’, which is the darkest thing the band have ever done, but I think the idea was probably stronger than the execution. This is also true of ‘Games’, a song that strives for radio pop greatness but fails due to watery production, a disjointed structure and lack of anything interesting to say. There’s no getting around the fact that ‘Angles’ was written and recorded by five different people in separate rooms, and that’s exactly how the weaker moments sound. ‘Call Me Back (a real grower) sounds like two songs wielded together and ‘Metabolism’ feels underdeveloped. However when they have clearly read each others notes, the results can be explosive for exactly the same reasons (see the Springstein-esque ‘Undercover of Darkness’), but if the album has a big flaw, then the lack of cohesion is it.

Although the band’s newly-found adventurous spirit makes this album what it is, undeniably the band are still at their best when they stick to what they know. On ‘Taken For a Fool’ and ‘Undercover of Darkness’ The Strokes haven’t sounded this damn Strokesey since ‘Room On Fire’, you’ve just got to love the familiarity of Julian’s vocals, the felt tip guitar twin attack, the understated rhythm section, and the simply joyous melodies . ‘Gratisfaction’ and ‘Two Kinds of Happiness’ also hark back to the band of old, but these songs add new and interesting elements into the mix, including synths and tribal drums. A part of me wishes the whole album was this clear minded and straightforward, but then I realize that if The Strokes keep sticking to the same formula with every album they would be little more than the indie Oasis, and obviously that isn’t desirable.

I guess, like me, You’ve probably been counting down the hours, days, weeks, months and years for this album. When The Strokes released ‘First Impressions of Earth’ I was still at school, and they were still arguably the most important band on the planet. Now they are primarily regarded as a group whose big achievements are locked in the past, and whose future is still far from certain. Rather than being an album that will change the course of indie as ‘Is This It’ did, ‘Angles’ is simply a great bit of fun that finds a satisfying balance between the old and the new – mainly it serves to remind me why this band meant so much in the first place. I suppose listening to ‘Angles’ is like meeting up with your first girlfriend for the first time in years and realizing that you’ve both moved on. You have an enjoyable chat, you still get along and you’re reminded why you liked her to begin with, and maybe under everything there is kind of a spark there – but you’ve both probably changed too much for anything serious to happen between you again.

8/10

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