The Strokes – Angles (2011)

Posted: March 14, 2011 in Music

It’d be nice to live as one of The Strokes. Just their mere existence seems enthralling. Although Julian Casablancas always looks two shades away from a drug addict – you know, disheveled, sleep deprived, and with hair in dire need of Pert Plus – he still shuffles around with this aura that sells him as the coolest fucking guy on the planet. The same applies to the four others, who all still look like they’re in their early 20s. Yes, 10 years later, New York’s finest rock ‘n’ roll export – a title that deserves more credit than you’d imagine – need not worry about its prestige, or its relevance. Five years ago, you wouldn’t have pegged the band as even potentials for headlining the likes of Lollapalooza, and especially not Coachella. You just wouldn’t. Here’s some perspective, though: The last time they stepped off the stage (sometime in Fall of ’06?), they were opening for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and they looked fucking miserable, too.

So, they’ve had a vacation of sorts. Casablancas, Albert Hammond, Jr., and Nikolai Fraiture put out solo works, all with mixed results, Valensi spent time raising his child and performing next to Sia, while Fabrizio Moretti broke things off with Drew Barrymore (ouch) and worked on Little Joy.

It’s been a tender five years since they unbuckled First Impressions of Earth, the polarizing third LP that left fans and critics swinging both ways. Because of this lapse in time, so many folks love to romanticize the idea of the band nearly breaking up, speculating that Casablancas grew tired, or Hammond, Jr. wanted more. It’s not surprising, really, especially since the band spent sessions recording without Casablancas, or vice versa. But, as Fraiture told Spin Magazine back in January, “There was a lot of back and forth. I don’t know if Julian had trouble being with us — I don’t know what was going through his mind. There were tensions. But it worked.”

Worked, indeed. Angles, The Strokes’ long awaited fourth LP, stands as the group’s most eclectic album to date. Digressing on the album title, again with Spin, Fraiture insisted, “It’s all about the different approach and the different ways these song came out.” That truth speaks volumes here. If you pegged “Under Cover of Darkness” as the true harbinger for the record, you’re sorely mistaken. It’s maybe one of possibly two tracks that harkens back to the band’s early days. The remainder sees the quintet exploring new sounds and new faces, assembling a pocket full of erratic tunes that sound like The Strokes but in a non-traditional sense.

At one moment, they’re exploring murky ’80s dance grooves (“Machu Pichu”), only to backpedal seconds later with sunny melodies and popcorn riffage (“Under Cover of Darkness”). In the latter track, arguably the album’s most accessible and traditional moment, Casablancas insists he “won’t just be a puppet on a string.” He sticks to his guns, abandoning the band’s more ancestral sounds, and instead surges forward. But, remarkably, the band sounds most comfortable when they’re exploring uncharted territory.

Admittedly, parts of the album do falter. Having produced this themselves, with the exception of the closing track, which was worked on by producer Joe Chiccarelli (Shins, My Morning Jacket), there’s little touches that irritate. At times Casablancas marries himself too closely to the instrumentation (“Taken for a Fool”), while other moments seem spoiled by flooding out the background (“Metabolism”). Time will tell if abandoning longtime producer Gordon Raphael was a good thing or not.

As with any Strokes record, the band slows things down, taking some time out for deeper moments of reflection. After all, Casablancas loves to dwell. “Is This It”? “Under Control”? “Ask Me Anything”? All in the same ballpark. Much like its predecessors, “Call Me Back” sees the elusive frontman coming to terms with his present conditions. “I look for you, and you look away,” he observes, moaning along to ghostly harmonies and spider-like guitars that crawl over an array of light noises. For a record stuffed with instrumentation, this sparse melody feels delectably rich and grounded. The bitter frontman entertains us with some humor, too, when he remarks, “Wait time is the worst/I can hardly sit/No one has the time/It’s why I’m always late.” That must be tongue-in-cheek, right? Maybe. Well, probably since he follows this up with “Gratisfaction”, a hip swinging jamboree that sees the band applauding themselves – literally.

Before the proverbial curtain drops on “Life is Simple in the Moonlight”, Casablancas warns, “Don’t try to stop us, get out of the way.” If we’re to take Angles into consideration, it’s highly unlikely we’ll stand our ground. At this time, we’re more than willing to step aside and let them do their thing. Hell, it’s that redemptive freedom that brought them back to the fold in the first place – and with headlining slots and smiles to boot. All I ask, however, is this time, please don’t leave me waiting in the dust for five more years. Deal?

01. Machu Picchu
02. Under Cover Of Darkness
03. Two Kinds Of Happiness
04. You’re So Right
05. Taken For A Fool
06. Games
07. Call Me Back
08. Gratisfaction
09. Metabolism
10. Life Is Simple In The Moonlight

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