[Album Review] The Strokes - Angles
An entire decade after the release of their debut album Is This It, The Strokes long overdue fourth LP Angles has finally been released to the masses of swooning girls (and guys) who have been waiting anxiously for this moment for five years. It's been made public that the process of making Angles was long, tiring, and ultimately a shitty experience for the entire band. After all the disagreements and delays, the band is back in the limelight with a new album in hand, once again living like fucking rock 'n' roll kings. So, why is it that we've had to wait five years for the five New Yorkers to finally come together and make their fourth album? And after all this time is it even worth listening to?
After the release of First Impressions of Earth in '06, the band itself basically went on hiatus, with Julian Casablancas, Albert Hammond, Jr., and Nikolai Fraiture all putting out solo works, Nick Valensi raising his child, and Frabrizio Moretti breaking up with Drew Barrymore (who would break up with her?!). It was clear that they all needed a break from each other, and the band suffered. When each of them finally came together in 2009 to start work on the album, things weren't the same. It appeared as if the entire band wasn't on the same page, especially Julian, who may have not been fully committed to the project. All of it made it seem like they could break up at any moment It's not surprising, really, as much of the recording process was done without Casablancas, or just him recording vocals by himself. It seemed to have worked, with Fraiture saying in an interview with Spin that "[t]here 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."
Albert Hammond, Jr. told Rolling Stone that the title Angles came from the fact that "[i]t's what the record sounds like. It comes from five different people." This is definitely true, as the album is easily the most diverse of the bands' four LPs. It is very fitting that The Strokes unveiled "Under Cover Of Darkness" first, because, out of every song on the album, it sounds like it could have fit in on any of the bands' previous albums. The rest of the album sees each band member exploring new sounds, new approaches to the signature Strokes style.
The album opens with "Machu Picchu," an 80s inspired track that takes classic Strokes style and blends it with dance grooves. The song is immediately followed by the incredibly upbeat "Under Cover Of Darkness," showing the stark contrast between the traditional method that the band took to making songs and the new, experimental direction that most of the album follows. "Games," for example, takes clear inspiration from Julian's 2009 solo effort, Phrazes for the Young, with synthesizers adding a new element to a recipe that, previously, would have shied away from that sort of thing. According to Fraiture, "the band experimented with new instruments and more technology, including MIDI electronic samples and Farfisa keyboards. They also overdubbed more guitars, and Casablancas toyed with vocal layers." This is entirely present in one of the albums most unique tracks, "You're So Right," in which Julian's vocals take a direction similar to that of Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Hammond, Jr. and Valensi's guitar riffs are layered in a fantastically frantic way, while Fraiture, who wrote the song, and Moretti keep the track consistent and tight. It's a track that displays the importance of each member, with all of them keeping each other in track, all the while playing off each other.
Other than "Under Cover Of Darkness," "Taken For A Fool" is the only other track that hearkens back to the old days of Is This It and Room On Fire, the major difference though is that "Taken For A Fool" feels like it is taking the old formula and adding to it. With tight vocals, concise guitar riffs, and an awesome hook, the song nails the classic Strokes sound and adds some much needed flavour. Other tracks, like the airy "Two Kinds Of Happiness" and the easy going anthem "Gratisfaction," take inspiration from the golden age of rock, the 1970s. The former has Casablancas' broadening his vocal range amidst vintage-esque guitar riffs, while the latter takes a stab at the pop rock style that Queen famously perfected in the 70s and 80s. The only moment where the album falters is on the track "Metabolism," which sounds like it would find a better home on First Impressions Of Earth. Julian's vocals are drowned out by the dark, heavy background portions, and a brooding Muse-like choir that makes the song feels out of place from the rest of the album.
As with every Strokes album, Angles has to take a few moments to breath. "Call Me Back" is the calmest and saddest moment on the album, with Casablancas ironically singing that "wait time is the worst, I can hardly sit." The song stands out because it shows the bands' ability to sound amazing even in the simplest of circumstances. Despite only a guitar and keyboard backing up Casablancas' vocals, the song is incredibly deep and rich. These moments where the band slows things down are often where they shine, and "Life Is Simple In The Moonlight" is definitely a shining moment. The song, written by Nick Valensi, is a moody combination of deep vocals, ethereal guitar riffs, and a fantastic guitar solo by Valensi.
"Life Is Simple In The Moonlight" was the perfect way to end an album that is, for the most part, a return to form for a band that seemed like it could drift apart indefinitely. The fact that all five members ended up coming together to put this album together shows that they truly do care about the band and the music, and the risks that they took in terms of adding new elements to their old formula, as well as having all of the band members write songs, shows that they have matured and are willing to expand musically. Valensi stated in an interview with MySpace Music, "I really just want to make another album really fast after this one. I just wanna kind of focus on new music for the future and just getting something out." Here's hoping that it doesn't take another five years for the follow up to Angles to be released.