Having already gone through one musical paradigm shift with a band called Nirvana in the early nineties, it seemed unlikely that this group of skinny, minimalist New York rock stars could encourage another entire musical reformation within my already highly impressionable collection of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dave Matthews Band discs a mere decade later. But holy crap, thank God they did. The Strokes Is This It was about all I listened to for several months in 2001, burning through countless double-A batteries in my discman. Room On Fire was another essential, and soundtracked an entire autumn and winter of college.
Which was the problem with First Impressions of Earth and now, Angles. The band was too big for its own good, and created a standard which it could never overcome. The sole fact that they were releasing new material became bigger than the music itself, leading to plenty of cynical critics and a slew of old fans who realized it wasn’t cool anymore to like The Strokes when the sixteen year-old kid down the street liked them too, a sadly ironic twist considering the band’s humble hipster beginnings. The good news is The Strokes have yet to become Generation Y’s version of Weezer, and avoided trading in their artistic soul for a bazillion YouTube hits and a shit-load of money. But the bad news is that Angles isn’t even a shadow of the band’s former brilliance. In fact, Julian Casablancas’ solo album from last year was a bigger step forward than Angles. This is not to say it’s not good, it’s simply static, refusing to make up its mind as to whether The Strokes are going to turn over a new leaf or remaster their old one.
Unfortunate, indeed, upon listening to the beginning of the album. “Machu Picchu” leads off with intoxicating dance floor rhythms (possibly taking a cue from the Brazilian-tinged Little Joy side project) and Casablancas’s trademark snide over the usual suspects of raspy guitars and understated percussion. The bridge and instrumentals are compelling stuff, effortlessly sucking the listener in to an already fascinating tune. “Under Cover of Darkness” is so catchy it’s almost sappy, and is a doo-wop or two away from fitting right in to an early-60s burger joint’s jukebox. The Strokes have never been more harmonic, cohesive or flat out enjoyable than these first two cuts. Leaving the listener to wonder what happened with the rest of the record. “Two Kinds of Happiness” mixes an 80’s synth open with guitar explosions ala First Impressions-style filler. “You’re So Right” and “Metabolism” are fairly sparse and depressing. There are hints of a more mellow shift in sound on the new wave-ish “Games” and “Life Is Simple In The Moonlight” but ultimately the record fails to produce any momentum throughout the stale, if not slightly pretty, set of songs; everything beyond the first few minutes fails to either completely disappoint or impress.
Personally, I would have liked to see The Strokes take a stand for something, either recreate their tried-and-true sound from years ago or reinvent something bigger that I’m convinced the band is more than capable of doing. Perhaps it’s a bit of boredom on Casablancas part, or just a desire to push out something new without really letting it evolve completely, but this mixture of homages to early work and half-assed attempts at sounding a little different are just not good enough. A perfect example is “Gratisfaction”, one part Bowie stomper, one part undeveloped modern rock anthem. The song feels like it was on its way to something interesting and then abandoned halfway through. Beyond the hype of simply getting a new Strokes album, there’s probably not a lot of replay value here, which is an absolute shame for a group with such talent.