Two things have disappointed me: myself and The Strokes much-anticipated album, Angles. After a five-year recording hiatus, the band has risen out of their soporific lounging, but sadly the gunk has yet to clear from their eyes, preventing them from making any good decisions. The record gets a heavy-duty makeover unlike past releases, moving away from the hip-shaking aesthetic that fans have come to know and love towards a more electronic-based sound. This time around, singer Julian Casablancas has relinquished his dictatorial position as the head honcho songwriter to his band chums, democratizing the recording process, but as the album shows the sum of its parts is not necessarily greater than the whole.
Ah, but I digress. The record kicks off with “Machu Picchu,” a revving analog whistle before busting out a pop-ish reggae rhythm with dual slap-back echoing guitars and digitalized drumming, setting the 80’s heavy sound which the band (for reasons unknown) has decided to adopt. Seemingly inoffensive, the track quickly shifts into second gear with a furious mondo-distorto axe barrage, offsetting the pre-established notion of a dance floor money-maker hit machine. This album might actually be great, one thinks (at least the first part is.)
“Under Cover of Darkness” is a delectable, classic Strokes cut (and arguably the album’s best track), chock-stuffed with hooks, swings and licks. The intro features harmonizing Thin Lizzy-ish lead guitars before warming up to the recognizable Casablancas melodic croons backed up by jangley chords, rock ‘n’ roll grit riffage and unprecocious, upbeat drumming. “Two Kinds of Happy” is a drive through The Cars-inspired verse with a detonating, rambunctious chorus that vacuums all noise out of the passage to placidly return to the verse newly again while “Taken For a Fool” rips apart the lingering verse formations with the blisteringly infectious chorus and a frantic guitar exercise coupled with funky bass lines. Sadly, all good things must come to an end as “You’re So Right” suggests: a moronic Radiohead rip-off of which its only saving grace is Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr.’s fretwork.
When the album opened with the line, “I’m putting your patience to the test,” it was referring to the second part of the album: a disappointing and pointless anthology of forgettable tracks lacking any memorable groove. “Games” features an obscenely cheesy synth intro and depressingly lame programmed hand claps while “Call Me Back” is bossa-nova chanteur track that never comes. What’s worse is that the track actually sports some interesting hooks but it quickly takes a turn for the boring. The band shifted from the newly-found confidence of the album’s first part to the uncomfortable jive that is “Gratisfaction,” with a forced faux-anthemic chorus that is tad reminiscent of “Someday” except for, you know, the good parts. The prog-heavy “Metabolism” is truly unexciting and unimaginative but, thankfully, their closer “Life is Simple in the Moonlight,” wouldn’t completely suck if it wasn’t for some intriguing soloing and analog effects.
Production-wise the album has abandoned their borderline lo-fi recording techniques of their outstanding 2001 Is This It? and 2003’s Room on Fire, saying sayonara to their supposedly “garage” rhetoric and embracing synth Britannia (a questionable love life decision) and swathing the whole record with an analog electric haze which is pretty difficult to sober up from (as the cover demonstrates, the band has been quaffing massive amounts of neon and synth). While vocals ring out with clarity, the bass has oomphs and the guitars are subjected to various sonic effects, the drums might come off sometimes as flat and tacky. Overall, the bright and pop-oriented sound is offset by the electric textures of post-production Though the whole band had a hand at production and arranging (as well as Gus Osberg and Joe Chicarelli) the album sounds more like First Impressions of Earth.
Lyrically, the band is unadventurous, eschewing significant others for their misgivings — “You get taken all the time for a fool all the time and I don’t know why” — as well as any logical order of the weekly structure: “Monday and Tuesday are my weekend.” Faux-angst lingers and malingers every once in a while, as seen in “Games”: “Living in an empty world…” as well as their classic “I don’t really like your girlfriends, baby” discourse as seen in “Under Cover of Darkness”: “And I’m tired of all your friends/ Listening at your door.”
The truth of the matter is that Angles is not really a bad album; the correct nomenclature would be “ok.” The first part is catchy and a tad daring, but tragically the latter is just exceedingly forgettable (which pains everyone since singles like “Under Cover of Darkness” embody a plurality of sonic voices and overall goodness). It’s even more disappointing to think that all of the members have recorded some pretty interesting stuff (Fabrizio Moretti’s Little Joy, Hammond Jr. and Casablanca’s solo efforts and even Nikolai Fraiture’s Nickel Eye is intriguing at times), but the end result is just not as good as was expected from such a high-profile group. There is still space for vindication in the near future; The Strokes might still be able to put out an album that sounds as though it were one they actually wanted to make.