Review Summary: Two steps forward, one welcome step back
Praise Buddha, The Strokes made the right call. Instead of continuing on the path of First Impressions, they smartly reverted mostly back to their old style. However, the band still evolves, thanks to an intelligent decision from Julian to change the writing process of the band. He decided to, during the recording process, distance himself from the band, recording the vocals on his own and sending to the other band members via email. Whenever they asked Julian questions, he apparently gave vague answers. This was done with the intent of forcing the band to come up with ideas for the music on their own, instead of relying on Julian to write all of the songs.
This decision paid great dividends. Because Julian wasn’t there, the other members of the band predictably turned to a more instrumental-influenced sound. In this album, we get more mind-blowing riffs, catchy bass-lines, and drum solos than in any previous Strokes’ album. The drums are a delightful surprise; they were the thing that popped out at me most during my first listen. You see, my Strokes’ listening experience went like this. Heard a few songs by them on Pandora, liked it for the most part, so went on Sputnik and saw that “Is This It?” was their best effort, by a lot. So I got it, and I liked it, even though the drums were awful. However, I wrote the band off as a one-hit wonder, as have many others. It wasn’t until a couple of my friends convinced me to buy Angles some months later that I was bothered to listen to the band again.
Twas a great decision. The drums stuck out immediately. Since this was only the second album I had heard by the band, after “Is This It?”, the improvement was both drastic and unexpected. Not only are the beats much improved, Fab is also a much more creative drummer. The improvement is much less unexpected now that I have listened to the complete discography, as you can slowly detail his evolution as a drummer throughout the band’s history.
The musical style on the album is best described by Nikolai Fraiture, the band’s talented bassist: “… I feel it's the album which should have been made between ‘Room on Fire’ and ‘First Impressions of Earth’,”. Fraiture actually penned the worst track on the album, “You’re So Right”. The song drones on without purpose, and Casablancas sings along without interest, while the guitars sound like annoying flies.
This, however, is the only weak point of the album. Everything else on the album is at least great, and some of it reaches classic status. “Machu Picchu” gets things started off nicely, complete with a disco groove and catchy chorus. Lead single and album highlight, “Under Cover of Darkness” keeps the ball rolling nicely. There are multiple reasons this was chosen as a single. It could fit in perfectly on “Is This It?”. Everyone in the band but Fraiture is given a songwriting credit, so of course the band would want the lead single to be the one which most signified the experiment which they undertook. And it’s a kickass song.
“Taken For a Fool” holds the key to the album. The song is driven by a powerful beat from Fab, features a nice, loopy bass-line, the guitars mesh really well, and Julian sings in his signature style. The song slowly adds on little bits and pieces as it goes along, until the climax at the end. It features a little bit of everything that is special about “Angles”. And to wrap it up, they give us the only track which Casablancas wrote by himself, “Life is Simple in the Moonlight”. The song is arguably the best track on the album, so in placing it last, the band are basically saying, “Hey, we experimented with our writing process, but we can still write an incredible song when Julian runs the show, like usual.”
So why is “Angles” the band’s best effort? It certainly isn’t a meaningless compliment, as the band have been pretty consistent (even their worst album, Room On Fire, is still a pretty enjoyable listen, even if it is a carbon copy of their debut). It undoubtedly has the best musicianship, as every single member of the band has shown improvement, especially considering where they were at 10 years ago, when “Is This It?” first came out. But more importantly, the variety that was lacking in their debut is present here. “Machu Picchu” is a dance track, “Under Cover of Darkness” is classic Strokes’, “Call Me Back,” is a ballad of sorts, though the band put their own spin on it, and “Games” has a spy-movie feel to it. Hopefully the band will continue down this path, but who knows? I wouldn’t have expected them to produce “Angles”, especially after listening to “First Impressions of Earth”.
"You're So Right" is in the vein of other dark songs like Take it Or Leave It, Juicebox, Heart in a Cage. They have one (or two) on every album except Room on Fire. The Peter Gunn style bass line is one that Nikolai exploits from time to time - it's a tribute.
I would say that "Call Me Back" and "Two Kinds of Happiness" are also weak points.
""You're So Right" is in the vein of other dark songs like Take it Or Leave It, Juicebox, Heart in a Cage. They have one (or two) on every album except Room on Fire. The Peter Gunn style bass line is one that Nikolai exploits from time to time - it's a tribute.
I would say that "Call Me Back" and "Two Kinds of Happiness" are also weak points."
You're right about the dark song thing. I like the two of first impressions that you mentioned (especially heart in a cage), but i dont really care for take it or leave it. and i didnt know about peter gunn, thats interesting.
i think call me back is about a 3.5 as a song, but works well in the flow of the album, and two kinds of happiness would also be a weak point if it wasn't for that riff at the end of the chorus.
Initially I was in love with this album, mainly just because it was finally a new album by my favorite band. Once it's had the time to fully sink in though I feel like it's definitely the worst set of songs they've released (Not bad, I still like it, just not as much as past albums). Word is they're working on a fifth album and I really hope Julian takes control of the band again and they revert back towards their old garage rock style.