Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Strokes - Angles review

Finally the wait is over.  New York garage rock kings The Strokes return with their long awaited follow-up to 2006's First Impressions of Earth with Angles, to be released on March 22nd in the United States.  The five year hiatus was prompted by well publicized bouts of exhaustion and (possibly) media fabricated rumors of a strife within the band.  During that time we saw each member of The Strokes go off and do their own thing, frontman Julian Casablancas released a new wave inspired solo album, guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr. released two solo albums of sunny guitar pop, bassist Nikolai Fraiture fronted acoustic/folk band Nickle Eye, drummer Fabrizio Moretti formed Little Joy and guitarist Nick Valensi collaborated with a number of other artists.  Is the new album worth the five year wait?  Yes and no.

Despite being described as a "return to the basics" by bassist Nikolai Fraiture, the style present on the album is hard to pin down.  Over the course of ten tracks and 34 minutes, Angles shifts and changes direction constantly (hence the name Angles), keeping the album from getting stale but also throwing the listener for a loop.  Angles employs a variety of different musical styles and techniques, which makes sense when you take into account that Angles is the first Strokes record to be written collaboratively by all five members of the band (the previous three albums were all helmed by Casablancas).  The result is a mixed bag of bouncy guitar tunes, sun washed electro-pop, and new wave balladry.

Upon first listen, one would never guess that this album had such a rocky recording process (slated for release in 2009, band squabbles and shifting producers forced it to be pushed back).  The Strokes seem invigorated and rested on this album, proving that without the hiatus the band probably would've burnt out and called it quits.  The entire album sounds like a bunch of guys who got together in their time off, in the afternoons after school, and recorded an album rooted in the genres and artists they hold dear to their hearts.  It is exciting and compelling to listen to The Strokes after such a long hiatus, and I feel much the same as I did when I first heard "Last Nite" back in 2001.  The Strokes are back, the new album is fun, and right now I am enjoying it immensely.

My reservation with the album is that I am not entirely sure yet if I am tricking my ears into thinking what I am hearing is good simply because I want it to be good.  I gave this record a number of spins before reviewing it, and I'm still on the fence.  There are definitely some stellar tracks, "Two Kinds of Happiness" could have easily been recorded by The Cars.  "Gratisfaction" is a punchy, guitar driven song that evokes This Is It with a big chanting chorus.  "Taken For A Fool" is a giddy tune that seems pulled from the Room On Fire recording sessions.  Other tracks are harder to classify, much less identify as anything the band has done previously.  "Games" sounds like a 1980's (or maybe it's just because the album art reminds me of Q*Bert) contemplative calypso tune that sees Julian croon over wailing guitars.  "You're So Right" is an aggressive track that attacks the mundanity of the 9 to 5 lifestyle that is dirty at its core, but polished to a high sheen.

Overall, Angles is an impressive effort.  It is short but exciting, familiar but cutting-edge.  The Strokes have returned, and they've done so with a huge bang.  They are like a brand new band, with the energy and outlook not of an exhausted veteran band, but of a voracious and hungry group of youngsters who just got their first record deal.  Let's just hope we don't have to wait another five years for the next one.

The Strokes - Juicebox

The Strokes Angles

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