Album review: The Strokes' 'Angles' [Updated]
“I will wait for you / Will you wait for me too?” So goes the chorus for “Under Cover of Darkness,” the first single from the Strokes’ latest album, “Angles.” Frontman Julian Casablancas could be singing about love, or, just as likely, about the band’s career. It’s been five long years since their previous effort, 2006’s underwhelming “First Impressions of Earth”; in its existence, the band has gone from cutting edge to modern-rock establishment, from tight-knit unit to a squabbling, dysfunctional family more concerned with their solo releases.
Indeed, advance press on “Angles” centered on its excruciating creation and ongoing tensions between the Strokes’ individual members — none of which inspired great hope for their new material. Maybe that was all hype to lower expectations, for “Angles” makes for a great album by any yardstick. It may arguably be the New York five-piece’s best, exceeding even its breakthrough debut, 2001’s “Is This It.”
[Updated 1:45 p.m. March 22: The original version of this review referred to the Strokes' debut album by the wrong name. The correct title is "Is This It," not "This Is It."]
At the very least, “Angles” proves the Strokes’ most interesting and crafted effort. On their three earlier albums, Casablancas served as primary songwriter, and much has been made of how this is the group’s first attempt at democratic collaboration; that risk pays off in a varied, diverse work. “Angles” documents a band trying to redefine its familiar sound while maintaining its core essence, and that tightrope walk adds an energizing frisson.
The Strokes have always been conspicuous about their influences — but where before their sonic touchstones veered toward the Velvet Underground and ‘90s indie, here the references feel more disparate and surprising: In one song, one might find the reggae inflections of the Police alternating with the Cars’ icy power pop, Fischerspooner’s neo-futurist electro, or classic rock à la Thin Lizzy (Casablancas pays wonderful homage to late Thin Lizzy vocalist Phil Lynott on “Gratisfaction”).
Best of all, “Angles” captures that now-all-too-rare excitement of musicians playing off of one another. Drummer Fabrizio Moretti goes far beyond what he previously seemed capable of, adding supple, complex rhythm to tracks such as “Two Kinds of Happiness.” The chemistry between guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi also staggers — on “You’re So Right,” they create an edgy post-punk fury recalling prime Sonic Youth.
But Casablancas proves the true star. Before, he was a one-trick pony, albeit with a great trick: an alluring monotone that exuded stylish alienation. Here, however, he pushes himself. One moment he’s soulful and crooning, the next passionate and raw, and in others a new, vulnerable falsetto emerges — all the while retaining the distinctive melodicism that initially made him irresistible. Throughout, Casablancas and his cohorts seem to push one another to give their best possible performance: if “Angles” represents the sound of a band not getting along, well, then — to paraphrase another alternative icon, Morrissey, viva hate.
Three and a half stars