After five long years since their last release, The Strokes finally dropped the first single from their fourth album, Angles. For a while, no one thought any new material from these guys would even see the light of day, after numerous delays and the rumored tension in the band. In fact, I don’t think I even believed that I would be hearing new material from them today until I actually pressed the play button (and I’m a huge fan).
The verdict: absence makes the heart grow fonder. For me at least.
“Under Cover Of Darkness” is a great song, but it’s not the best song I’ve heard in the last five years since their absence, and it’s not the best song by The Strokes. It is, though, the best mainstream rock song I’ve heard so far in 2011, and will probably continue to hold that title until the record actually drops and a new single takes over. I don’t see any other band stepping up this year and taking 2011 away from The Strokes. That is, unless The Black Keys drop a new record or The White Stripes get back together. Then, they’re probably fucked.
Unlike the last three albums by The Strokes, all of the members of the band were involved in the writing process for Angles. And it shows. Usually, frontman Julian Casablancas takes on the job of writing all lyrics and music, but this change is refreshing. On “Under Cover Of Darkness”, you can hear where the instrumentation is more polished and complex, and holds a wider variety of music style than their most famous tracks. This time it’s not just Julian. It’s Albert, it’s Nick, it’s Nikolai, it’s Fabrizio. There’s harmonies, there’s more involved guitar riffs, and it’s far more dancey than anything before. For lack of a better analogy, it sounds like… a garage rock video game. I almost expect the guys to be running around getting into all kinds of trouble while surrounded by bright colors and flashing lights in the upcoming music video. Maybe Julian Casablancas with a light saber?
As for what they’ve done right and wrong, there’ a few things on each end:
The Good: The Strokes have managed to stay very true to the style of their two most successful albums albums, Is This It and Room On Fire, which is probably what most of their fans are looking for. Those two first records are minimalist, whereas the third, First Impressions Of Earth, went off into a whole other dimension. Not a bad thing, but just different. With this new track, it feels like Angles will be that transition record between classic Strokes (“Someday”, “Last Night”, “12:51), and the dark complexity of Impressions (“Vision Of Division”, “Heart In A Cage”, “Electricityscape”) that never happened. They’ve done an excellent job staying with the 70′s rock revival that the fans love (hopefully the actual band still loves it too, after all of these years). And most of all, it’s enough to make any of their fans kiss the ground that they walk on for pure joy that they’ve made it through to see The Strokes come out with a new album.
The Bad (which isn’t even bad): Over the years, all of the guys have been involved in solo and side projects, all of which have been great, but they haven’t separated their independent musical ventures from carrying over into the new Strokes material. On “Under Cover Of Darkness”, we hear more of Casablancas’ melodic falsetto screech from his solo record Phrazes For The Young than his deep monotone growl from early Strokes songs. The instrumentals and melodies sound stylistically like Albert Hammond Jr’s solo record ¿Cómo Te Llama?, more than the simple and raw tracks of the past. It’s not a bad thing, technically. It’s nowhere near aurally displeasing, but I can’t help predict that some will say that they’ve changed. But they have. It’s been ten years, they’re in their 30′s now, and mostly sober.
Overall, I love the song, but not everyone will.
Angles is due out March 22nd, 2011.