Angles – The Strokes
By Ky DiGregorio
What do fine wine, the iPad 2, sushi, and the 1998 remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho all have in common? They’re all just like the new Strokes’ album, Angles, obviously. Like a good red wine and Steve Jobs’ newest toy, some bands get better with age and technical sophistication, but some bands are better in raw form (like sushi) and left alone (like how Psycho should have been). The Strokes are all ends of the spectrum, in some twisted way. The guys have grown up over the past five years, during a hiatus following their third record, First Impressions of Earth, and they seem to be more Married With Children than 24-Hour Party People nowadays. Did it ruin their “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” reputation and carefree songwriting, though? Some might argue so, but that’s quite shallow. Angles is exactly what it should be: A follow-up as good as Is This It.
“They sound like The Velvet Underground” and “They ripped off Tom Petty” used to be the only comparisons thrown at The Strokes. And they weren’t inaccurate. With Angles, though, The Strokes show more musical variety than ever before, with influences so vast and random that they seem as if they were chosen by shuffling an iPod shared by all five band members. On this record, the New York natives offer up everything from Phoenix-inspired soaring electro-esque guitar riffs (“Life Is Simple In The Moonlight, “Two Kinds of Happiness”), to instrumentals reminiscent of David Bowie’s “Ashes To Ashes” (“Machu Picchu”), to Julian Casablancas’ best Ric Ocasek impressions on tracks evoking the spirt of The Cars (“Two Kinds of Happiness”, “Taken For A Fool”), and some serious synthy-heavy new wave tributes and homages to Vince Clarke (“Games”). Possibly the strongest track, and the truest to their earlier influences, is the song “Gratisfaction”, which sounds like Lou Reed singing lead for The Beatles in London circa 1977 (assuming that any of that is plausible). The list goes on and on. While listening to Angles, tidbits of Radiohead and Muse appear on “Metabolism”, and Bruce Springsteen, The Cure, and U2 throughout the rest.
All comparisons aside, though, The Strokes have finally moved forward after laying dormant since their last truly celebrated album, 2003′s Room On Fire. Unlike the first three records, all members of The Strokes participated in the writing process of Angles, and it shows. Five band members shine equally as bright on the 10 new tracks, rather than sounding and looking like they should be called “Julian Casablancas & His Band” to those who don’t know any better. Angles is a definite step up, especially for guitarist Nick Valensi and drummer Fabrizio Moretti, who have broken out and become Mr. Guitar God and the Human Drum Machine (sounds like a circus freak side-show act, right?). As for vocals, Julian Casablancas is bipolar with his range. One minute, he’s snarling out the deep, mumbling, “Julian Growl” (“Under Cover Of Darkness, “Taken For A Fool”) made famous by The Strokes’ first hit “Last Nite”, reminiscent of his hard-partying “No-fucks-given” drunk 2001 self, and the next he’s all over the place with ungodly high-pitched but polished falsetto efforts (“Games”, “Two Kinds Of Happiness”) and smooth, sexy, ballad-style vocals (“Call Me Back”, “Life Is Simple In The Moonlight”).
With an album coming from the minds of five different people, rather than one, things feel a bit more complicated. The lyrics are more like the pensive reflections of “Life Is Simple In The Moonlight” (“In the light of the living ghost I see, she sees her father in the old man’s eyes“) than the carefree New York City rock ‘n roll snarls of “Oh, in the sun, sun having fun, it’s in my blood” and “I wanna steal your innocence” from “The Modern Age” and “Barely Legal”. It all makes for a very apparent and noticeable shift in intention, but Angles is overall really nice to listen to. While The Strokes aren’t hopping from venue to venue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan getting drunk and falling into the crowd anymore, they’re just as fun to listen to, just in a more mature manner. While the expectations might be for a fun, young-sounding garage rock record like Is This It, what would be said for Angles if The Strokes took the Green Day approach and tried, as full-grown men, to exactly replicate the hit songs that they wrote in their early 2o’s? Not everyone can pull that off.
Contrary to popular belief, musicians are not time lords (except for maybe David Bowie), and bands get older along with their fans. What’s the harm in changing things up? The Strokes fourth record is a good one, unexpected in nature while fulfilling the promises of “back to basics” in some weird way.