The Strokes’ album Angles marks the band’s return to the music scene after years of dormancy following the 2006 release of the First Impressions of Earth. Older and wiser, The Strokes have spread the songwriting duty around the band and all five members contributed tracks to the album.
The shared songwriting duty leads to multiple influences being fired out of the speakers. Lead single “Under Cover of Darkness” comes off with a sound taking a similar style to the Room on Fire album and pulls in a modern pop-rock sound. “You’re So Right” takes on a darkwave influence with a heavy dose of The Stranglers and The Horrors. “Gratisfaction” has a strong ’70s rock influence and has a summer sound to it that sounds like it could have been a Steely Dan track had Steely Dan ever turned on the amplifiers. Each track works in its own way with The Strokes being mature enough in their sound to release solid track after solid track.
The shared songwriting that produces so many different influences leads a rather disjointed effort. Julian Casablancas’s voice is one of the few unifying elements and comes across much as it has in past albums with lo-fi elements over edgy music. The change from the dark sound of “You’re So Right” into the Franz Ferdinand inspired “Taken For a Fool” is jarring. The funky disco beat of opening track “Machu Pichu” is never seen again. Even the production of the album feels uneven. “Under Cover of Darkness” retains the feeling of early albums while “You’re So Right” comes off as super-slick and super-clean.
Let’s be clear: Angles is a marked departure from the seminal debut album Is This It. The lyrics moved completely into adulthood and far away from the post-adolescence of tracks like “Last Nite” or “Barely Legal.” With this shift into adulthood, The Strokes lost the raw edge that made their early sound so powerful and unique. Nothing on Angles has the raw feeling of Is This It, nor the killer of instinct of tracks like “New York City Cops.” It is simply unfair to expect Angles to match that level of music brilliance.
But what Angles does do marvelously is establish a new footing for The Strokes. The sound is more accessible and not as hard to grasp as Is This It, and the varied song styles are bound to produce a likeable track or two for just about any rock lover. Well, except for the screechy filler track “Games,” which is the only true miss on the album. The rest of the tracks are lyrically solid and musically intriguing, even with the jarring changes in styles between tracks.
Angles has a distinct feel to it. It’s less experimental than the oft-maligned First Impressions of Earth, yet keeps the feeling of Room on Fire. Instead of actually progressing the sound of The Strokes in any remarkable direction, Angles feels like an attempt to catch up with a train The Strokes once conducted. Bands that The Strokes influenced — particularly UK bands like Razorlight, Arctic Monkeys, Libertines, and Franz Ferdinand — show up as sonic influences on Angles. It’s as if The Strokes are trying to use their new maturity to regain their mojo.
Happily, unlike many comeback albums, Angles comes out strong and is an overall good album. It doesn’t decimate the sound of The Strokes that fans have come to love, nor does it feel like a band mailing it in for another payday. Angles has some true moments of greatness where the band lies on the verge of recapturing its past glory with the simply awesome “Taken For a Fool” being on par with the best The Strokes can offer. The rest of the album is filled with solid rockers that, while not spectacular, largely avoid being disappointments. It’s a sea change away from Is This It but ultimately doesn’t suffer for it.
(RCA Records, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036)