Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Strokes: "Angles" (album review)

The Strokes' new album, Angles (out March 22nd), is a crossroads record for me.  It will determine whether they are a talented band who simply lost their way on the last two albums, or they are a group that got lucky their first time out.

The album kicks off with "Machu Picchu".  It's a promising start and clearly signals that the band are attempting something fresh after time apart to work on solo projects.  That something new is an keyboard/synth infusion.

Sadly, they never reach that zenith again with the electronic elements of the record.  When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs worked on a similar tract, they embraced it whole-heartedly.  The Strokes incarnation is much more of a half measure.  Tracks like the swirling "Games" and the confused (and ultimately boring) "Call Me Back" don't push the envelope far enough.  The piecemeal prog of "Metabolism" sounds like a bad Muse imitation.

What does become clear as the album progresses is that elements of the band have improved while others continue to degenerate.  On the plus side, Albert Hammond Jr's guitar work has never been this sharp.  The apex of this is the towering guitar flurry of "Two Kinds Of Happiness".  The rhythm section takes centre-stage to great effect on "You're So Right", giving the song an almost Bauhaus-esque pallor that hints at a potential new direction that would be so much stronger for the band.

On the flip side are the vocals of Julian Casablancas.  Never the most technically proficient singer, Casablancas has devolved from adequate to absolutely irritating.  For instance, the guitar work on "Taken For a Fool" makes me say 'Hell yeah', until the cringe-worthy vocals kick in.

Completely out of place is "Under Cover of Darkness".  This may be a bone thrown to long-time Strokes fans, as it sound like it could have been on any of the previous records.  The peppy, Pavement-like "Gratisfaction" is also out of place, but the song is strong enough to make it one of the album's highlights.

In the end Angles ends up being inconclusive for me.  I had hoped that the record would tell me either "yes, they are back" or "nope, time to cut your losses".  Unfortunately, it does neither, leaving me just as confused about The Strokes as when I began.

Best tracks: "Gratisfaction", "Two Kinds Of Happiness"

Track listing for Angles:
  • Machu Picchu
  • Under Cover of Darkness
  • Two Kinds of Happiness
  • You're So Right
  • Taken For a Fool
  • Games
  • Call Me Back
  • Gratisfaction
  • Metabolism
  • Life Is Simple In the Moonlight
5.5/10
The Strokes' website

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1 comment:

Emily said...

It was really cool to read your album review. I am with you on the confused relationship stance...do we like them? Do we not? I haven't listened to their new tracks yet, but now I know which ones to download (and to not bother with) by reading your review. I have been interviewing teen bands and writing band reviews about them on my blog, if you would like to check it out and give feedback/pointers I would be very grateful. My blog is www.buildingtheband.wordpress.com.