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Angles released after five-year wait

Photo: new.thestrokes.com

Julian Casablancas has been pretty busy over the past five years from his solo project, his appearance on the Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse collaboration “Dark Night of the Soul” and a superb performance with the Lonely Island on the chorus to “Boombox.”

However, we haven’t heard much from his flagship group, the Strokes. “First Impressions of Earth” was released in 2006, and since then, the group has been pretty mum, other than the occasional rumors of a new album in the works. On March 22, the Strokes finally released “Angles” to scores of drooling fans, eager to hear the garage rock gods that made flashy guitar hooks cool again.

During those five years off, however, it seems that the Strokes have actually been working on a time machine. One need only look at the stylized album art to see that this record is straight from the late ’70s and early ’80s—a colorful, geometric design that would be right at home on the sleeve of a release by Queen, The Police, Cars, etc. It’s very fitting because more than ever, The Strokes are letting their influences show on “Angles.”

The guitar riff that closes out the opening track, “Machu Picchu,” is evocative of the song “Wanna be Startin’ Somethin’” by Michael Jackson. If you can’t hear The Police’s influence on “Two Kinds of Happiness,” you must be deaf. And as usual, Casablancas models his crooning after Tom Verlaine from 1970’s CBGB mainstay band Television. Listening to tracks like “Under Cover of Darkness,” the Strokes’ interlocking, shimmering guitar lines harken back to the intricate work of Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.

Name any rock or pop act that mattered from that era, and it’ll show up in some form or another on “Angles.” Granted, some artists may take offense at having their influences so easily identified and plucked out.

The Strokes do hold their own to be sure, but the sound of “Angles” is so distinctly new wave-esque that it’s hard to say that they are breaking much new ground musically. In fact, sometimes the essence of the ’80s is a bit too ubiquitous. Rarely does one find so much reverb heavy snare hits on a modern album. There’s a reason for that; it’s so hard to hear that particular sound without associating it with the dark, over-synthesized pop music hell-scape that was the mid to late 1980s.

Tracks like “Games” and “Two Kinds of Happiness” at times sound like the drums were recorded in a cave miles away from the studio. Setting aside my personal bias to 80’s drum recording techniques, drum machines used in tracks like “You’re So Right” seem unnecessary and distract from what are otherwise well written and well produced songs.

Certainly, everything has its place in the music world, but on “Angles,” a lot of it seems out of place. This release was a more collaborative effort for the Strokes, allowing all members of the group to have input in the songwriting process.

However, there are points where the tunes sound awkward — as if one member wrote the verse and another member wrote the chorus, perhaps most flagrantly on “Machu Picchu.” This results in an album with songs whose transitions sound forced. In fact, some of the tunes sound more like a band attempting to write a Strokes song than an actual song written by the Strokes. There is a lack of organic flow to the record, which is a real shame considering how successful the Strokes were in their previous efforts like “Is this It.”

“Angles,” however has many redeeming qualities. The guitar work here is as polished as it has ever been, with a myriad of shiny infectious lines. The song “Gratisfaction” has a beat so catchy it’s sinful.

Check out “Taken for a Fool,” “Under Cover of Darkness” and “Life is Simple in the Moonlight” as well. There are a lot of solid tracks on “Angles” that are totally worth the time (and at 35 minutes, it’s not much time to sacrifice). The album just suffers from a general awkward feeling that’s hard to shake. Really, the Strokes are just cursed; it’s hard to make a rock ‘n’ roll album much better than “Is this It.” But God bless ‘em for trying.

Get the background story on The Stokes

Members:
Julian Casablancas, Nick Valensi, Albert Hammond, Jr., Nikolai Fraiture and Fabrizio Moretti

Albums:
“Is This It” (2001), “Room on Fire” (2003), “First Impressions of Earth” (2006) and “Angles” (2011)

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