Musical reinvention is problematic. Struggling to determine what to drop while figuring out what to add is like dancing in the dark. It’s perfect until there is a witness. For The Strokes, there are millions of witnesses, many of whom will dislike their fourth album Angles because it’s nothing like Is This It. The lo-fi grove of the debut was addictive to critics and audiences alike. That period is long gone and The Strokes have replaced it with peculiar construction, lethargic vocals and deference to everyone but themselves.
Angles is not a bad album. The Strokes new found love for all things digital, married with their instrumental aesthetic, creates an interesting sonic experiment, rife with unexpected twists and turns. Unfortunately, the appropriation of influence teeters into tribute band territory and some of the songs serve as filler between the stand outtracks for the sake of lenghtening the album. In this odd piece of work, the band manages to deliver highs and lows, sometimes in the same song.
The opener, “Machu Picchu,” is a watered-down stab at an 80’s Caribbean Pop piece that finds Casablancas tormented about a relationship at the breaking point. Not The Strokes we recall, but the spring-loaded guitars on the verses that pour into the wall of sound chorus are enjoyable. The first (and hotly debated) single, “Under The Cover of Darkness” shut down the internet upon its release and with good reason. The whisper of 50’s sock-hop and the whiney simplicity of the breakdown make for strange, yet wonderful, bedfellows. It’s also Casblancas’ vocal high point.
The group returns to the 80’s with “Two Kinds of Happiness.” Casablancas channels Ric Ocasek as the rest of the band takes the song through free-flowing New Wave whimsy that meanders from single to double time and back. Enough cannot be said about the guitars on this album. “Taken For a Fool” continues the retro party with plenty of homage to Sting and Pop-Ska construction. “Games” goes almost full-on digitized; evoking the best of haze-infused pop from a time when instrument-less music was new and exciting. Unfortunately for the Strokes, 30 years of test tube composition has made this particular sound staid and uninteresting. Unless, of course, you yearn for the days when Flock of Seagulls was flying high, then you will love it.
Angles takes a bad turn with “Call Me Back.” It’s “Girl From Ipanema” with synthetic sparkles and the energy of a wet match. Casablancas sounds like he’d rather be anywhere but the recording studio and the fun house in the round guitar breaks are annoying. More annoying is the next song “Gratisfation” which sounds like 70’s rock radio at its worst. The guitar work on “Metabolism” is superb but can’t save the melody from spinning around until it collapses, weary and dizzy. There is something truly odd about the drums on the chorus and Casablancas again disrupts the little flow this song has by schlepping his vocals across the track like he’s singing under duress.
The closer, “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight,” is a smooth ride on puffs of synth and Casablancas’ best try at a Michael Franks’ type cool restraint. The ill-fitting sequences, inserted at the tail end of the chorus, steal the show, and not in a good way. It’s a disappointing, sputtering end to an album that started with such a bang.
If Angles proves anything, it’s that ring rust and reinvention don’t mix. The Strokes are probably a strong enough band to stave off both, but depleted energy levels and a lack of group focus apparently crept into the recording sessions. The odd consortium of parts works well at times but stalls at others, leaving The Stokes with an odd duck of an album. It’s not bad, but it struggles to hit its marks and makes you wonder what the angle was in the first place.
2.75 out of 5
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