The first line perhaps best sums up the much-awaited fourth album from the Strokes: “I’m putting your patience to the test.” The Strokes’ last release, First Impressions of Earth
, came out way back in 2006 — a lifetime in pop culture terms.
So what took the Strokes so long to make Angles, their latest 10-song record? Well, kids were raised, girlfriends were dumped, rehab was attended and a slew of side projects were released. In other words, typical rock band-on-break activities occurred.
Unfortunately, the all-too-common rock star pattern of band dissolution has seemingly forced its way into the members’ relationships as well. The music website Pitchfork reported that singer Julian Casablancas recorded all of his vocals separately and sent the tracks to his band mates via e-mail.
Left to disjointedly piece together their individual parts without their songwriting cornerstone present resulted in the altogether too-clear fractured nature of the album. However, somewhat surprisingly, The Strokes simultaneously deserve considerable credit for managing to succeed as much as they do on Angles
. Such circumstances would spell disaster for a lesser band.
Much like the long wait for Angles
’ release, the album itself requires a little patience from Strokes fans as well. The opening track, “Machu Picchu” begins, rather shockingly, with a shimmering faux-reggae beat. Thankfully, they quell any concerns of questionable new directions — at least for the time being — within a minute once the guitars cut into familiar garage-rock riffage that could only be attributed to the Strokes. As the song continues, the reggae beat falls neatly into place within the context of the song, providing a promising reintroduction. The band then launches into one of the album’s true highlights, their first single “Under Cover of Darkness.” Perhaps the band’s most infectiously danceable number since “Last Nite” from the debut album Is This It?
, “Darkness” is the return to form many have hoped for. The guitars stop and start on a dime as Nick Valensi’s leads snake around Albert Hammond, Jr.’s bouncy rhythm chords. Drummer Fabrizio Moretti and bassist Nikolai Fraiture steadily chug along, all while Julian Casablancas delivers his muffled, disaffected, yet oddly endearing vocals from somewhere seemingly off in the distance. After a five-year absence, hearing the Strokes click together again in such true form is altogether thrilling.
While “Darkness” and fellow album highlight “Taken For a Fool” are for the most part reliant on the familiar Strokes style, the second half of the songs “Games” and “Call Me Back” show the band delving into ’80s synths and electronics.
After Casablancas’s electro friendly solo album, Phrazes for the Young
, this new direction is not entirely unexpected. For all of the glitz and pop of “Games,” the song grows tiresome and bland by the midway point. The clichéd keyboard lines and drum machine beats feel lifeless. As Casablancas sings about how he’s “living in an empty world,” the song itself is all too empty of true appeal.
The slow, musing “Call Me Back” starts promisingly enough with staccato guitar plucks and Casablancas’ distinctive croon, but awkward vocal phrasings, lack of melody and a background synthesizer that is distractingly similar to Owl City’s “Fireflies” drains the song of any lasting charm.
“You’re So Right” and “Metabolism” maintain a guitar-centric focus but come off as unnecessary exhibits of the band’s tight harmony. While managing to deliver some needed energy, “Metabolism” quickly grows repetitive and monotonous, playing as a weak remake of “Heart In A Cage” from First Impressions of Earth
After a lackluster second half of an album, comprising a few disappointing duds, The Strokes manage to end on an upswing with the slower, yet intriguing “Life Is Simple In The Moonlight.” Successfully integrating their newly adopted keyboards subtly within the twisting guitar play and melody shifts that have come to define them, the Strokes sign off on a high note.
As the Strokes themselves are certainly aware, they will never escape the shadow of 2001’s Is This It?
Such is the case for most bands with stunningly good debuts. The Strokes of Is This It?
utilized a gritty ’70s sound that, when made their own, sounded fresh in the musical landscape of the early 2000’s. While that sound is still here at times, the Strokes have additionally adopted a retro sound of a different kind. They have drawn from the glossy ’80s, which has dominated the pop airwaves for the last few years. A decade later, the band now sounds behind the curve. Oddly enough, their early style is still refreshing.
is solid at best, and a disappointment at worst, and as such, it requires some patience. Weighted down by misdirected experimentation in a few areas, the Strokes haven’t lost a step in others. Whether an exercise in regaining their footing, or just a decent last statement, Angles
nonetheless brings a band that the rock world has dearly missed back into the spotlight. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another half-decade for album number five.
— Contact Zachary Philyaw.