Album Review: The Strokes - Angles

by

The Strokes - Angles
The Strokes - Angles (Image courtesy of RCA)

The Strokes' fourth album, Angles, comes on the heels of a five-year band hiatus that saw numerous solo projects and sparked doubt over whether the band would ever record together again. Now, a new narrative has apparently been put in place: this is supposedly their most collaborative effort to date, infused with a new spark and confidence that makes it their best album since their 2001 debut, Is This It. I mean, listen to their return to that stripped-back sound, and all the band members have writing credits, as opposed to Julian Casablancas writing all the songs! While this is the narrative they'd like us to swallow, other articles suggest far more fractious recording sessions, and raise new doubts over the band's long-term prospects. So who do we believe?

I believe the closest spiritual cousin to Angles is Weezer's 2001 self-titled album, colloquially known as "the Green Album". In both cases, a beloved alternative band went on what seemed at the time like an indefinite hiatus, and returned five years later with a collection of songs that aimed to display all the band's strengths and renewed fertility at once. In the case of Angles, you'll hear plenty of the band's signature double-guitar attack from Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi, augmented by slick synths and the constantly-improving rhythm section of bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fab Moretti. In several cases, Casablancas has re-added filters to his voice, making large sections of the lyrics largely unintelligible (even his signature bellowed choruses). On the surface, it really does sound like the natural evolution of the classic Strokes sound, taken into the second decade of the 21st century (and the band!). But like the Green Album, once the initial rush and novelty wear off, you may be asking yourself, "the band had five years to work on this, and this is the best they could come up with?" Weezer, as it turns out, entered a newly fertile period of their career, steadily releasing albums over the next decade; unfortunately, the Green Album retroactively turned out to be their post-Pinkerton peak. One of the oft-repeated quotes from the band this time around is that they'd like to record albums on a more frequent basis; hopefully, they can avoid Weezer's pratfalls.

It's odd, because ordinarily, a review would have ended with the preceding paragraph, which would be a tremendous disappointment to you all, being as I've hardly described the album itself. So I'll take a cue from the album title and take a different angle in looking at Angles.

The Strokes wound up being an inadvertently vital band for me. Is This It helped spearhead the indie/alternative renaissance of the early 2000s, which also happened to be when I began my plunge into the indie/alternative world. I think the Strokes wound up influencing more bands that we give them credit for, a fact which became apparent the first time I heard lead single "Under Cover of Darkness". The song is underpinned by a series of brash rhythms and guitar riffs, and I initially wrote it off as a Phoenix rip-off. Then I thought about it some more, and realized how much of Phoenix's recent sound is directly attributable to the Strokes. So now the Strokes are ripping off what was a Strokes rip-off in the first place. A return to form, see??!

Another interesting feature is the band's strange fascination with spy-movie themes, a la "Juicebox" from First Impressions of Earth. "You're So Right" and "Metabolism" each employ nervy bass parts and jittery guitars. Synthesizers also work their way into Angles in various capacities, with "Games" in particular settling into an almost Cut Copy-esque breakdown. Opener "Machu Picchu" and closer "Life Is Simple in the Moonlight" also benefit from remarkably tight grooves, some of the best the band has done. You're also going to read plenty of folks making Cars comparisons, but no matter how much you read it, it will still be a startling moment when Casablancas' voice jumps out at you and you'll think, "My god, he really does sound like Ric Ocasek!" "Call Me Back" is the archetypal languid ballad appearing 2/3 of the way through the record, and I like the track quite a bit; it recalls the lazy-day feeling of Moretti & Hammond's solo projects.

While Angles might not wholly live up to expectations, it's still an entertaining album that works even better in individual doses. I can picture all ten of these songs spending time on the Current playlist. Maybe they're destined to follow Weezer in another way: as a ruthlessly effective singles band. As Casablancas sings on the final track, "Don't try to stop us, don't try to stop us, don't try to stop us, GET OUT OF THE WAY."