Thursday, 31 March 2011

Review: The Strokes - Angles

It’s taken a long time for the Strokes to release another album; the previous being 2005’s First Impressions of Earth. Unlike their first two records Is This It and Room on Fire the band’s critics aimed not at their hyperactive levels of acclaim, burdened with such grandiose suggestions as "the saviours of rock & roll", rather that to some First Impressions appeared to be more of a desperate effort to shake away any and all notions of being imitators of  the 70s CBGB art-punk movement of their own New York City. Ironically it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise: First Impressions was a purely reactionary record, and by breaking away from the sound that they supposedly imitated the band became genuine imitators of a diverse range of different sounds. Sadly even after six years and a long hiatus the Strokes’ fourth album Angles shows they haven’t quite learned their lesson.

The positives of this album are plentiful; many moments in a sense recapture the levels of excitement that earned the Strokes their early recognition. Most notable of these include the first single "Under Cover of Darkness" is perhaps everything fans of Is This It could ask for from the band ten years down the line. The dual guitars of Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi lay down another memorable riff, deviating with, well, angular stabs throughout. Julian Casablancas sings as though he’s still asleep until the first chorus when an immediate perspective rises from his urgent voice. The reggae-funk opener "Machu Picchu" is a joyous departure that has a part sounding surprisingly like the hook from Michael Jackson’s "Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’". And despite it’s iffy name "Gratisfaction" sounds perhaps the most refreshing of the albums’ ten songs: it’s glam stomp emulating Thin Lizzy and Ziggy Stardust Bowie, and the kind of fun sleaze these artists evoke ties in well with the Strokes’ aesthetic.

Other experiments in diversifying the Strokes’ sound are more hit-and-miss. "Two Kinds of Happiness" is a flashy attempt at stadium-filling 80s U2 re-enactment, feeling devoid of purpose or correlation to expanding the Strokes core sound, something which many of the other tracks, despite their variety, can be said to do. "Call Me Back" has less purpose still. Although on first listen you could be forgiven in thinking a stage is being set for a killer comeback, the tracks’ eerie yet bland change of direction finishes the track short, leaving little reason to return to the track again. Even more cringe-inducing is the Muse-like prog of "Metabolism", even more soullessly ambitious. Casablancas’ voice has gone from deadpan to simply uninteresting, and the track reeks of failed expansion of mass appeal.

There are a number of standout tracks on Angles that are likely going to be welcomely received when slotted into the Strokes’ live setlists, which makes the fact that the band once again fails to release a consistent LP all the more frustrating. The band may find themselves most comfortable and well received as they have throughout their career already, not only as strong live performers but as the boutique end of mass-produced radio rock, which they’ve at times shown too great to be restricted to. As one-time rivals the White Stripes have recently thrown in the towel, along with announcements that the Strokes have announced that a fifth album is currently under development, one has to ask for how much longer they have left in them.

But don't just take my word for it, visit the band's website and listen to it there.

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