The Strokes – Angles
As has been widely documented, the recording of The Strokes fourth album got a little bit strained and complicated. In fact, life for The Strokes has been getting ever more complicated since the simple life of the early 2000’s, when they were the hottest, hippest young things on the block – shooting effortless angular guitar hooks and languid vocal melodies into a mainstream starved of anything approaching decent guitar music. But simple can lead to boring, and in The Strokes’ case, the safety net of being the most exciting new band on the planet has carried them through some pretty shonky albums since their electrifying debut.
The recognition of this is what probably led the New Yorkers to disband for a few years to concentrate on side-projects, solo albums and rehab – anything to get the creative juices flowing again! While this tactic led to a few successful solo albums, it inevitably caused added creative tensions within The Strokes, with every member now eager and willing to contribute to the song-writing – formerly the sole realm of one Julian Casablancas. While this was initially seen as a sign of the bands slow implosion, it turns out to be the best decision they’ve ever made – with Angles easily being their most interesting and enjoyable album since Is This It.
We say interesting, because Angles is not the album we were expecting from The Strokes at all – with surprises and curveballs thrown out at every step. Opener ‘Machu Picchu’ is the first of these, with its low-slung funk and reggae tinged rhythms hinting at a new, experimental approach. Casablancas’ lyrics confirm the suspicion that this won’t be your normal Strokes album, seemingly acknowledging the bands previous failings with talk of taking on new challenges and reaching new heights: “I’m just trying to find / A mountain I can climb.”
‘Two Kinds Of Happiness’ continues the experimentation, with an intro lifted straight from the 80’s power ballad songbook; while drum machines take the lead on the moody and atmospheric ‘You’re So Right’. ‘Games’, meanwhile, has keyboards and synths drifting along a beautifully ephemeral melody – the only drawback being Casablancas’ slightly routine lyrics. After a decade spent writing songs for one of the most prominent rock bands around, you’d expect something a bit more powerful and insightful than a coda of ‘I’m ok / I’m alright’.
As is expected with so many influences being thrown about, Angles suffers a few misfires. If anyone can tell us what the point of ‘Call Me Back’ is, please do because were struggling to think why such a weak and boring song got anywhere near the track-list – unless a bit of in-band wrangling saw it being included for the sake of ego.
The appallingly titled ‘Gratisfaction’ is another that doesn’t quite work. While it;s not as bad as the name suggests, it never quite manages to reach the 70’s glam rock heights it is aiming for and sounds like a band trying a little too hard to incorporate an influence and sound that just doesn’t fit.
Fortunately, these aberrations are an exception rather than a rule and the album really shines when The Strokes stick to the lo-fi garage-rock they do so well. Lead single ‘Under Cover Of Darkness’ is The Strokes back to their electrifying best, with the lead and rhythm guitar lines snaking around each other and enveloping Casablancas’ drawled vocals. The end result is one of their best songs in years and proof that they still have the ability to create memorable, crowd-pleasing choruses.
The albums real highlight, though, doesn’t come until the end. ‘Life Is Simple In The Moonlight’ is exactly the sort of song The Strokes should be making ten years into their career – using their maturity to slowly build the tension before allowing the song to open up into probably the best chorus they’ve ever put together. If this song was on their second or third album it probably would have been a much more rushed and anxious record. Nowadays, though, it seems The Strokes are comfortable enough to have faith in their song-writing and let it unwrap itself naturally, rather than drowning it with too much ‘stylish’ posing.
While some of the experimentation on Angles falls a bit flat, it is obvious their freer and more relaxed approach has helped them rediscover the mojo that went missing after their spectacular debut album. Instead of being the return to form a lot of fans might have been hoping for, Angles is more of a stepping stone – a necessary creative experiment needed to spark The Strokes back into life. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another four years for the follow-up!
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