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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Strokes - Angles: B

I don’t know about you, but March seemed like an especially depressing month for established acts releasing new music. Lupe Fiasco released an abhorred third album (that I didn’t actually find that bad) and the members of Rise Against might as well have expressed the same ennui that Julian Casablancas did before releasing Endgame, which was clearly a middling time-placer. And now we have Angles, the new Strokes album that I had great skepticism for since its release was announced. From the frequent indifference to the album’s making that frontman Casablancas expressed in his promotional interviews to the justifications for its release by the band’s other members that basically amounted to, “People said we should make a new album, so we did,” Angles came off as obligatory before it even hit my hard drive. It sounded as commercially motivated as the most egregious boy bands and worse than the recent Pixies reunion tour in that The Strokes weren’t just going to play old songs but release albums for the sake of releasing albums. And it’s not like The Strokes have released ten albums up to this point. With just three fantastic albums behind them, the band isn’t even close to justifying defaulting to Cruise Control; I don’t care how many years have passed since First Impressions of Earth.

The actual music of Angles does come off this way in that The Strokes seem incredibly concerned with covering all the sounds that they have explored in their career in an attempt to please fans of them all. The jagged riffing of “Metabolism” recalls the raucous tracks on First Impressions of Earth, “Gratisfaction”’s jazzy swing sounds like a polished remix of an Is This It track, and, although I was never as keen on “Under Cover of Darkness” as others were, it is no doubt a throwback to the group circa Room On Fire to near comical proportions, Casablanca’s voice pushed laughably far back in the mix in an attempt to give it the “singing-through-a-phone” quality of the group’s first two albums.

Casablancas sounds particularly noncommittal. What made the man so interesting on Is This It was his blasé approach to singing, but within the context of the fact that the man recorded the vocal parts of Angles separately and sent them to the group as electronic files, Casablancas’s lyrics sound revealingly indicative of his attitude toward the album. The chorus of “Games” goes, “Living in an empty world,” and Casablancas concludes, “Everyone goes every damn place they like” on “Taken For A Fool.” “Everybody’s been singing the same song for ten years,” he sings on “Under Cover of Darkness,” as if to acknowledge and indirectly justify the middling quality of Angles. It’s pretty clear that Casablancas knows the album is the half-assed fleshing out of a romanticized era that has long since passed. His obvious apathy seems to beg the question, “The fuck did you expect?”

And, of course, the result of Angles’s blatant pandering isn’t something that every Strokes fan will like. People have their qualms with First Impressions of Earth, but few can deny that the album was the consistent sound of a group that was moving in a direction. Angles has no such reliability. The album is disjointed, cluttered with both attempts to resurrect the magic of Is This It and electronic jaunts like “You’re So Right” and “Games” that sound like slight improvements on Casablancas’s positively awful solo album, Phrazes of the Young. The best tracks of Angles are the ones that sound like what The Strokes would logically release after First Impressions. “Taken For A Fool” utilizes both computerized percussion and improved production to create a good song that doesn’t look back once. “Call Me Back” is the album’s “Ask Me Anything,” as it’s the most obvious respite, but, although I hated its analogous song on First Impressions, here it is my favorite track. The quiet refrain of ominous guitar and vocal harmonies sounds weird, but it’s interesting and unlike anything the group has done in the past. If Angles were the legitimate sound of an evolving band, I would not complain if it were a hint at a technique that the group would expand upon in future releases.

Angles is, by no means, a bad album, but let me put my opinion of it this way: If the delay of Albert Hammond Jr. working on new material is facilitated by this reunion and the release of more albums like Angles, then I don’t think the group’s reentry into the collective consciousness is particularly worth the time. Does Angles have redeemable qualities? Sure. But its lows are much more noticeable than its highs and one leaves the album with minimal lasting memory and that much less excitement to hear the news that the band’s already working on a follow-up. I figured that, after Oasis broke up, a band would fill that vacuum of established artists releasing career albums, but I never thought it would be The Strokes. The only difference, now, is that I like the sound that Oasis made slight tweaks to with each album they released. After ten years, it’s hard to tell whether The Strokes have figured out their own identity and relevance in a musical landscape that may just not need them anymore.


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