Whatever happened to the likely lads from the beginning of the century? After the muddled, heavy rock of their last album, First Impressions of Earth, could we even have expected a fourth album from New York’s coolest band? Five years later with a myriad of solo projects, marriages, kids, drugs, and general loathing of each other, The Strokes return with Angles. It’s never a good sign when during the press for the album, the band mentions that they will never record in such a manner again. Or how the recording process was tortuous.
Despite all of that, The Strokes have left us with a collection of songs that clearly recall their early days of recording. The hooks aren’t up to par compared to their first two classic albums, but their is enough variation in the sound to provide a bit of a challenge for the listener.
“Machu Picchu” opens the record with a wind up, a stuttering riff, and Julian Casablancas’s vocals floating over the top of the mix. The song represents a clear break from the mess on their last record. It’s pretty much everything one would want from a Strokes song. Lead single “Under Cover of the Darkness” is next, with its bubbling, busy riff and Casablancas’s moaning croon throughout. The song works well due to its feeling of urgency. “Two Kinds of Happiness” is a changes pace with a pared down riff and a hollow sound. Then the song picks up traction and rocks, thankfully differently than anything from First Impressions of Earth. Hell, even the vocals seem to be coming from somewhere else. During the recording of the album, the four instrumentalists (Valensi, Fraiture, Hammond, and Moretti) recorded basic tracks on their own. The tracks were then sent to Casablancas for vocals. Sometimes this works, but here that arrangement is apparent in a bad way. “You’re So Right” features, of course, a stuttering guitar, and Casablancas’ vocals battling with the melody. A nifty guitar break saves the track from being a total loss. “Taken for a Fool” features a sweet buildup and a winning melody. “We’re so lucky cuz we never grow up”, Casablancas croons in one of the discernible lyrics on the album.
“Games” opens the second side with a muted riff and a programmed drum sound. The song itself is a meandering piece of synth rock, straight from the 80’s. It must be said here that the rhythm section of Fab Moretti and Nikolai Fraiture are in the pocket throughout the album. They are clearly the bedrock of the band, for without them their sound wouldn’t have the base to build upon. “Call Me Back” is a change of pace, again. It’s muted opening verse, featuring a simply picked guitar and Casablancas’ vocals – it shows minimalist musical acumen at its finest. “Gratisfaction” features a simple riff, and a great descending vocal line. The song is pure Strokes (again) and would be at home on any of their albums. “Metabolism” is a heavy song (without really rocking out) and is in all actuality one of the weaker moments on the album, but the guitar lines are great, as always. “Life is Simple in the Moonlight” finishes the album off at a ballad’s pace. A tinkling riff bubbles, as the distorted vocals croon effortlessly. There’s a dash of New York cool in the chorus, and it’s a fitting end to the album.
After five years of nothing from the band, Angles is a bit of a letdown in some people’s eyes. What they can’t see, nor explain, is why. The album is certainly better than their last, and is clearly a product that is greater than the sum of its parts. Though its not without its faults, particularly the lacking second half of the album and the uber-80’s tinniness of the production. When the Strokes were lauded from magazine to magazine in the early 2000’s, the hype almost seemed to be more important than the music. Having been away from being a working band for a half decade, the Strokes have returned with a more polished take on their classic sound. Different: yes. Disaster: absolutely not!