Review Summary: Angles was never meant to be Is This It? for a new decade. Instead, Angles is the sound of a band maturing.
Generally, there are two ways to find success in our “non-classical” musical world (a general term I will use to describe the areas of music that websites such as Sputnikmusic
might cover). The first is obvious -- make great music. Radiohead makes great music. Animal Collective makes great music. They make such great music that they directly affect the music of large swathes of artists around them. When Radiohead announced The King of Limbs
, it was an event. These are the critical successes -- artists that define the musical style of a generation.
Then there are the cultural successes, a band like The Strokes in 2001. Is This It?
is, in the end, nothing more than a fantastic garage-pop album. The Strokes didn’t reinvent the wheel, but instead filled the wheel with air and went on a drunken joy ride around New York City. But for so many (disclaimer: I was ten, and Hybrid Theory
was still my jam, so I’m working as a historian), The Strokes defined the attitude of an unnamed movement that permeated the rest of the young decade. It wasn’t the music as much as it was the image -- the punk attitude and energy that broke away from nu metal’s funeral dirge; the style lead singer Julian Casablancas flaunted, no doubt partly inherited from his fashion designer father. “This is the stuff of which legends are made,” said Joe Levy of Rolling Stone.
We know the rest of the story. The last we heard from The Strokes as a group was the disappointing First Impressions of Earth
in 2006, and none of their later solo efforts seemed to recapture the magic that Is This It?
held. Could The Strokes return ten years later, at the dawn of a new decade, and repeat the past with a return to form in the same style?
Judging the lead single “Under Cover of Darkness,” a definite return to form, they could have easily rewritten Is This It?
and won over the hearts of both nostalgic fans and kids growing up and discovering that same rebellious punk in themselves. But with Angles
, The Strokes do not want that, and Angles
is a better album for it.
Obviously, the impetus for the genre-jumping, seemingly unfocused Angles
is the different songwriting process the band used, emphasis on band. Whereas Casablancas wrote at least part, and usually all, of every song on the first three albums, Angles
came primarily from the band’s instrumental members.
It explains the album’s worst song, “You’re So Right”, as it comes from the group’s most unsuccessful songwriter, bassist Nikolai Fraiture. His solo project, Nickel Eye, met a tepid response critically and commercially, as did his song, the second to leak from the album. “You’re So Right” is directionless and uninspired. Casablancas sounds bored as he sings over it, and the rest of the band puts in a minimal effort to contribute to Fraiture’s composition.
But the new style of songwriting also gives life to the album’s best songs, like “Metabolism,” a song that derives from the band’s typical pop style but imbues it with a flair of dramatic direction. As Casablancas wails over the notable harmonic changes, the band recalls a grungier Muse. Whereas the band’s previous musical successes worked through simplicity, “Metabolism” brings an air of fresh, inspired complexity. Lead guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. sounds revitalized as he shreds (a relative term) through the song’s dancing chromatic main riff. This allows Casablancas to do what he does best, feed off of his band’s energy and double it through his voice.
Angles has just the right amount of throwback Strokes, from “Under Cover of Darkness” to “Gratisfaction” to the final track, “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight”, the only track Casablancas penned by himself. But even in that final song, Casablancas throws a soaring synth lead over the first part of the chorus before launching into a frenetic ending. I would bet that 2001 Casablancas would have written an entire chorus based on that frenetic ending. Even in their most classic sound, The Strokes have matured. “Two Kinds of Happiness” finds Hammond expanding his sound into something that might fit on a U2 album. Opener “Machu Picchu” brings reggae into the typical Strokes mix. “Call Me Back” is their idea of a ballad.
lacks a definite image, it is the band’s best purely musical statement, and as the band members explore their 30s, perhaps it is time for them to retire their young, aggressive punk image and become successes in the first sense of the word -- strictly musical. For that purpose, Angles
is a step in the right direction.