Strokes' Long-Awaited Work Feels Rough Around the Edges


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The Strokes - Angles

Jawad Qadir discusses tracks from the Strokes' latest album.

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It's hard to believe that ten years have passed since the release of the Strokes' debut, Is This It. With its back-to-basics guitar-based sound mixed with lead singer Julian Casablancas' thin vocals, that album still sounds as timeless as ever. It remains as a symbol of a new beginning for rock music in the 21st century, while leading to a flurry of critical acclaim as fans and critics named the band "the saviors of rock 'n' roll."

Mix that kind of hype with a half-decade-long hiatus since the release of First Impressions of Earth, and the Strokes' task of creating an album that lives up to the expectation feels impossible. After rumors concerning the band's possible break-up - bolstered by a slew of side-projects and solo albums - Angles has finally arrived.

No, it isn't the redefining masterpiece that fans have been waiting for, though that might have been expected, considering much of the news being released about the internal difficulties of the band. Nor does the album prove to be the return to form that everyone else wanted after the release of their lead single, "Under Cover of Darkness."

Instead, Angles builds on some of the experimental qualities of First Impressions without boring listeners to the extent of their previous effort. The band steers clear of their past mistakes by creating a middle ground between two distinct styles. They infuse the rough rock sound of First Impressions with the lighter rock/pop sensibility of Is This It and Room on Fire to create a mildly successful album that still occasionally suffers from the problems of its predecessor.

As the title suggests, Angles arrives as a product of five distinct songwriters, taking the title of sole scribe out of the hands of Casablancas. Although the approach may prove to be useful in the band's future projects, the album feels fractured as a result. The band inexplicably jumps from the reggae groove of "Machu Picchu" to the '80s New Wave-inspired sound of "Two Kinds of Happiness," bringing to mind Casablancas' solo album, Phrazes for the Young.

The album further suffers from the presence of a few tracks that never feel fully conceptualized. The Casablancas-penned "Life is Simple in the Moonlight" initially recalls some of the best tracks from the Strokes, but it builds to a climax that never arrives. "Call Me Back" proves to be a mess of a ballad, encapsulating the uneven nature of the entire album as it fails to capture the catchiness of past songs like "Under Control." The track shows the Strokes at their most indulgent.

On the other hand, the bright spots on Angles capture the band creating the kind of jumpy pop songs that remind listeners what all the hype was about in the first place. With its roaring chorus and memorable lyrics, "Taken for a Fool" stands as the perfect example of what the Strokes should sound like.

Angles illustrates that the Strokes can still make an album, but not that they know how to work together as songwriters just yet. It may be a disappointment to those who have been waiting five years since their last project, but fortunately Angles proves to be more surprising than boring. One can only hope that, having made an album, the Strokes won't let another five years pass between projects again, and will go on to make many more that improve upon their latest release.

Get jumpy with Jawad at [email protected]

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