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Album review: The Strokes' 'Angles' [Updated]

Strokes “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.

—Matt Diehl

The Strokes
"Angles"
(RCA)
Three and a half stars

 

 
Comments () | Archives (15)

How can I trust a review that can't even get the name of their first album correct?

I was lucky enough to listen to Angles a week before its release. I was able to listen to it prior to reviews that may angle (no pun intended) how I view the music.

This is definitely the best album The Strokes have put out since their debut album nearly ten years ago. It's a different sound, a new sound that gives homage to beats and hooks of those of the 80s. It's a bit retro, but I feel just like 'Is This It?', you'll need to listen to this in order to see where the industry is heading.

Thank you! I actually listened to the album before all the album reviews came out (more like hype on how the Julian recorded apart from the rest of The Strokes and the dissent within the band instead of a review on the MUSIC) and I loved it from first listen! Personally, I didn't really dig Grastisfaction - it's a bit too... bombastic for my tastes, but the rest of the songs are great. Really, awesome album & so glad that The Strokes are back. :)

WOW, "UNDERWHELMING" AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF EARTH IN THE SAME SENTENCE??? JUST CAUSE IT ONLY PRODUCED ONE SINGLE DOES NOT MAKE IT UNDERWHELMING. GET OFF THE POP CHARTS OR STOP WRITING ABOUT ROCK AND ROLL CAUSE YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT IT.

I'm less than thrilled about this album. I agree that they've tried to be more varied and diverse, but I don't think the results work. They are, for better or for worse, best when they try to sound like The Strokes of 1991. The new songs just don't do it for me, not because they don't sound like the old Strokes but because they simply don't work on their own as songs. Still some good tracks, particularly Machu Picchu. Full review at http://www.kammentary.com/2011/03/new-listens-strokes-richard-ashcroft.html

It is hard to take this article too seriously when you can't even get their debut album title correct. The title is "Is This It?"

C'mon. Springsteen said it best: "I'll wait for you, if I should fall behind wait for me". Now that's a lyric.

Of all things to fact check, the title of the first album doesn't seem to be that important, especially when Matt and Scott are wrong. Go the website http://www.thestrokes.com/home. They don't use a question mark in the title of their first album.

Actually, @Scott, their debut is "Is This It". There's no question mark. He has it right in the article.

As far as this album goes, I agree with @Keith Moore for the most part. I really enjoy most of the songs on this album but I still yearn for the '01 Strokes sound. I think the main contributing factor to the different music style is that the Strokes aren't 21 years old anymore. They've grown up and unfortunately, they've grown out of garage rock (it seems). Once people stop expecting them to revive 70's garage rock (Television, VU, etc), their albums will be accepted better. The problem is that everyone was so mesmerized by their sound in '01 that people have only wanted more. I think "Angles" is a really solid album with a few minor weak spots but a good fusion of "Is This It" and 80's synth-rock. I think the electro:rock ratio is pretty even but I (being a classic rock enthusiast) would prefer more drums, less clap machine.

Either way, I think this is the album that should've come between Room On Fire and First Impressions; maybe a different 3rd album even...I think they've grown up too much to be thought of as the drunk Strokes we loved ten years ago. The hooks are wonderful, though.

Oh, and I don't think I really specified that I think this was a truly successful album. I really do love it. Good job, Strokes!

This record is almost, but not quite, completely awful. I thought everyone was way past drinking this band's Kool-Aid, but I guess over-estimating public opinion is a fool's game. Seriously, this record is bad.

How could you guys possible expect another "Is This It"? The Strokes perfected garage rock, then rightfully moved on, expanding their sound and craft. Art moves forward. How boring would it be if they did the same thing on every record?

I am a Strokes fan and I hate to say it but 'Angles' didn't prove to be as good as the previous album. As someone commented about art moving forward, I can agree with that just as long as art moves towards a good direction and not a bad one which was the case in this album. First off, the use of electronic sounds excelled both the vocals and the guitars which I found annoying. Second, they have had years to get this album done, so much time for a bad album is a bad sign in a band. I didn't expect for the band to keep their old sound but such a move makes me want to erase it completely and keep listening to the old albums.

The record is not perfect but it has new ideas, sounds and catchy hooks.
Two kinds of happiness starts off amazing but turns into a really bad coldplay song. i'm so confused why they let the song go there. And gratisfaction is just straight annoying. But other than that i really enjoy the record.

Come on people, STOP BEING SHEEP!!!!!
Just listen to it YOURSELVES and THEN form an opinion.
It does take a lil EFFORT, but SOOO worth it


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