Widgets Magazine

Review: The Strokes’ ‘Angles’

Courtesy of RCA

When Julian Casablancas took the stage at last year’s Coachella Music Festival, he cut a lonely figure. Surrounded by a sea of people in the middle of the Indio desert, Casablancas was lost. He launched immediately into cultivated hit “Hard to Explain,” but it wasn’t the same. Gone were the familiar faces of the other four members of The Strokes, replaced with a backing band providing the means for the front man’s stab at solo success.

Yet on his supposedly solo venture, Casablancas lasted just one song before referring back to his claim to fame. He couldn’t get away. None of them could.

In the span of five years since The Strokes released their last album, “First Impressions of Earth,” the music world waited to see if New York City’s garage rock messiahs would get on with it. With side projects abound, people wondered if the boys could rediscover the edge that fed debut, “Is This It?,” and put out another release. Or would they simply go through another year of disillusionment and feed the continuing rumors of fall-outs and break-ups?

Still, we didn’t really think they’d end it there. Did we?

Courtesy of Brian Valdizno

Like Casablancas at Coachella, The Strokes were unfinished and incomplete. This couldn’t be it. There was still so much on the table: the band’s lucrative contract with RCA that mandated five albums, the worldwide acclaim and, most importantly, the seeming inability of any member — even Casablancas — to match the heights reached by the collective whole.

“Angles,” The Strokes’ fourth LP, represents the re-realization of the potential of that collective whole and, at the same time, the band’s first steps in learning how to be a band again. With all the band members contributing to the writing process — Casablancas had been the primary architect for the previous three — “operation make everyone satisfied” was a cathartic, yet disjointed process. The result? An album that recalls the best of times but carries experimental lows that mute what was supposed to be the band’s triumphant return.

It starts off strong enough, though. “Machu Picchu,” composed by lead guitarist Nick Valensi, showcases the band’s success when it does turn to collaboration. Holding back the typically boisterous guitar interplay, the band develops a tropical feel à la Cut Copy before Valensi shadows Casablancas on the melodies and the lead singer climaxes by shredding his typically rough vocals. “Gratisfaction” also represents a victory for the band’s newfound sound trials, stealing a riff or two from “The Boys Are Back In Town” as Casablancas calculatedly stumbles over lines like, “He got punched in the mouth for thinking of…living with his business.”

But where the band stumbles on “Angles,” it falls hard. “Two Kinds of Happiness” is dreamt right out of the 80s but ends up in a mix up of high hat, distorted guitar and general clamor. “Games” is more of the same, as a Nikolai Fraiture bassline steadies a repetitive chorus that is eventually lost in the malaise. While Casablancas can still write a great hook when he wants, the boringly repetitive choruses featured on some cuts give the sense that the songs were rushed to production before the lyrics were given any true thought. If it’s any consolation though, there are synths — by no means a Strokes tradition — that help fill in almost-there songs (see: “Life is Simple in the Moonlight”).

Slower cuts “You’re So Right” and “Call Me Back” prove to be “Angles”‘ nadirs, with the first, a B-side to the album’s first single, offering nothing more than robotic layered vocals that belong on Casablancas’ solo project, not a Strokes album. The latter is more of the same oddball antics, with half-whispered lyrics that come off like a failed Craigslist missed-connection listing.

“Angles”‘ victories, however, far outweigh the shortcomings. “Taken for a Fool” rediscovers traditionalism and mixes elements of the band’s first two albums — Valensi intertwined with Albert Hammond Jr., sharp lyrics and Fab Moretti’s rapid-fire drum fills — to devastating effect. And if you thought the band was washed up, give single “Under Cover of Darkness” a shot. Having crashed the band’s website as a free giveaway a month ago, the song’s call and response between Casablancas and the lead guitar feeds off an energy that seemed to have been pent up for the last five years. And after starting the recording of their fifth album, The Strokes will have to rediscover that mentality on a consistent basis. Nobody’s going to wait around for half a decade again.

A version of this review appeared on Treeswingers on March 23.