Review Summary: Welcome back gentlemen.
It’s been five years since The Strokes graced the music industry with their undeniably, uber-cool presence. The album was First Impressions of Earth and the year was 2006, which must seem like an eternity ago to Strokes fans. After a two-year hiatus, a couple of solo records from the bands’ creative stalwarts, a lot of time spent brainstorming and two producers later, New York City’s finest return with an album that has successfully combined everything off of their three previous releases. Angles is their first album where each member takes on an equal role in the songwriting duties. This is largely attributed to their lead singer’s absence during most of the recording process. Guitarist Nick Valensi reported that Casablancas recorded all of his vocal tracks separately while solely communicating to his band mates via email and even then expressing any of his ideas or suggestions in “really vague terms”, practically forcing the rest of the band to take over the creative aspect, which Casablancas claims was what he was aiming for all along. Julian’s (clever") little ploy results in the band’s most diverse record to date with many different genres and influences present (the band cites MGMT, Arctic Monkeys and Crystal Castles as the big ones). With Angles they conjure up a collection of songs that combine synth-pop with 80’s rock n’ roll while somehow staying true to their roots with a sound that is unmistakably them.
The Strokes stroll back into your ears with “Machu Picchu” as if they’ve never left and power through three and a half minutes of pure excellence. This song contains every element of a good Strokes tune: a catchy riff with slight distortion, Casablancas’ signature vocals delivered over top of twangy guitar-driven choruses accompanied by a savvy beat provided by the steady hands of Fab Moretti and Nikolai Fraiture. Throw in some sarcastically critical lyrics aimed at the trendy world of pop culture, particularly targeting its main offender, Lady Gaga: “Wearing a jacket made of meat,” and “Machu Picchu” is like greeting their fans with a steak dinner after starving them for five years.
The second track and first single “Under Cover Of Darkness” is The Strokes at the top of their game on their best day. The infectious opening riff instantly grabs the listener and pulls them through upbeat, foot-tapping verses into the tenacious chorus that showcases Casablancas’ ability to use that voice to make even the simplest of lines sound like pure genius. Big points for the lyrics as he scolds those who let themselves become “a puppet on a string” and everybody who’s been “…singing the same song for ten years”, an obvious dig at the people who keep measuring everything they’ve ever done by their breakthrough album Is This It. Insert a very Strokesy guitar solo courtesy of Nick Valensi, who absolutely shines throughout this song and you’ve got a classic Strokes concert staple.
The band veers off in a completely different direction with “Two Kinds Of Happiness” which explores the two different sides of love: lust and affection. They do a pretty good impression of The Cars as they shuffle through the soothing verses atop synthesized chords and a pulsating beat before jumping into a simple yet energetic chorus where Casablancas warns us: “Don’t waste your heart”…very wise words my friend. “You’re So Right” is the only song on the album written entirely by Fraiture and there’s no coincidence that it’s also the weakest song on the album. It’s not terrible, but it is very unoriginal and sounds more like a track that was cut from one of their earlier recordings rather than a brand new Strokes song. Valensi’s guitar work is the only thing that saves it from being completely forgettable.
Next up is “Taken For A Fool”, which once again combines everything that is good about this band: Julian’s natural vocal ability that makes even the most common words sound unique (love the way he pronounces “yesterday”), guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi’s seemingly effortless chemistry and the talent of their stellar rhythm section, especially Fraiture, who’s bass line on this track is seriously badass. They pull the synth back out for “Games”, an eerie little song that gives us The Strokes’ take on 80’s new wave complete with an intro that sounds like it was recorded by a Peruvian flute band and a chorus that would make Annie Lennox jealous. At almost four minutes it does drag on just a little, but they throw in enough breaks and time changes to keep one interested even if it’s not as enjoyable as the single, which is the only song longer than “Games” to this point.
“Call Me Back” slows things down significantly and is the lone track on Angles that Moretti and Fraiture don’t participate in. Instead the band relies on Casablancas’ strong vocals overtop of a haunting guitar riff complimented by a xylophone and a quiet synthesizer in the chorus for emphasis. While it’s distinctly darker than the rest of Angles, it doesn’t mess with the flow too much. A good song for anyone whose ever been waiting for a call back from a certain someone, only to be left with disappointment. Luckily its predecessor “Gratisfaction” returns us to The Strokes we all know and love. It’s fun and upbeat, complete with guitar licks that have Valensi and Hammond written all over them. Combined with the virtuoso drumming that Fabio Moretti has maintained throughout this whole record and smart lyrics that Casablancas easily navigates through, you’ve got what should be their next single.
The band then delves into the First Impressions songbook and pulls out “Metabolism”, a self-loathing song where Casablancas wails about how he just wants to be someone else. The musicianship is as good as anything else on the album, but the song itself is nothing special and its only real purpose is to segue into Angles closer, “Life Is Simple In The Moonlight”. This track is the longest on the album, clocking in at just over four minutes and is also the only one that the band kept from the original recording sessions with producer Joe Chiccarelli (the rest of it was produced by Gus Oberg). The progression of this song is flawless as the band comfortably transitions from their gloomy verses, where they tackle everything from lust and pride to their disgust with modern America, into a beautifully constructed chorus before changing gears unexpectedly as Julian shouts: “Don’t try to stop us…get out of the way”. They finish on that note, quietly leaving us to bask in their undeniable coolness as if they where never even here at all…quite simply, “Moonlight” is a brilliant way to end this brilliant album.
Angles is the first record the band has made which actually feels like it was coming from the minds of five different parties, as opposed to their previous material which always felt more compounded. On this record The Strokes put aside their differences while throwing them together at the same time to create an album with more angles to it than a 6 o’clock news story. By sharing the credit and not letting egos get in the way too much, the band delivers us one of those rare albums that every real music fan should own. You know, one of those records that you’ll pull out to show the kids years from now and say: “now these guys were really good.”…or something like that. Angles is extremely acute, from the songwriting and production right down to the cover art. Now of course, there’s always going to be some fans that will bitch and moan just because it’s not Is This It, but to those fans I say: grow up. The band has and so should you. Instead of nitpicking this album for what it isn’t, we should be celebrating it for what it is: a fresh way to look at indie rock’s pioneers. Then again, I guess there are different Strokes for different folks…nonetheless, welcome back gentlemen. The music world certainly missed you.