After listening to the Strokes' new single, "Under Cover of Darkness" when it dropped, I didn't set my hopes very high for the rest of the album.
The single, which dropped a few days ago, was just ta little better than OK. The chorus, of course, is reminiscent of "Angel of Harlem" by U2 -- which I was alright with -- but the lack of distortion on both the vocals and the guitars gave the impression that the band had gone in a new direction, a direction I wasn't particularly fond of. It sucks to wait five years since the release of First Impression of Earth for something you don't enjoy, but I was prepared for the worst.
But it turns out that the rest Angles, the New York band's fourth full-length, doesn't resemble the single whatsoever -- which is great. That signature Strokes style is back, and it's as good as ever.
Whenever someone has asked me what the Strokes sound like, I've always said, "I love them, but all of their songs sound the same." They've practically perfected the art of garage rock, but who's to say that "You Only Live Once," "On the Other Side," "Someday," "Last Nite," and "Reptilia" don't all sound rather similar? To my delight, the Strokes have stepped up their game and brought us greater variety with the tracks on Angles.
On "Machu Picchu," the watered down electric guitar almost tricked me into thinking that Animal Collective had a guest spot on the album for a synthesizer backbeat. That classic Casablancas drone is ever present, and the band plays this song with high energy. It's a good thing that this is the first track rather than "Under Cover of Darkness" because this got me hooked.
"Two Kinds of Happiness" has an 80s style to it, and it's got that U2 arena rock sort of sound again. It makes me picture Albert Hammond, Jr. playing to a sold out stadium in place of The Edge. That sound is working well for them though.
The bass gets heavy on "You're So Right," which has a brief guitar solo that could've once belonged to the Beach Boys. It's a darker song. The vocals are slow but the tempo is quick. It's not one of the album's gems, but it's a unique track nevertheless.
The Strokes keep up the pace with "Taken For a Fool," a foot tapper. It's got driving drums and undulating vocals, and it's one of the more upbeat tracks so far.
I wasn't expecting a dance track, but the band gives listeners just that with a light techno sound on "Games." It's more about the beat since there aren't a lot of lyrics, but it's good for getting stoned and kickin' it.
Casablancas is sitting, waiting and wishing for a girl to make his phone ring on "Call Me Back." "Wait time is the worst, I can only sit / No one has the time, someone's always late," he sings longingly. It's stripped down and raw, just Julian and a guitar for most of the song, apart from when others in the band contribute whispers as backup vocals near the end.
"Gratisfaction" sounds like Julian definitely went through a Billy Joel phase while writing this one. It's got a major hint of blues, and parts of it are loosely like an alternative take on the Piano Man's "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" in a higher pitch.
With a guitar riff that's slightly eerie right from the start, "Metabolism" sounds like it could be included on an action/adventure video game soundtrack, like Spider-Man, perhaps. The vocals get increasingly dramatic as the song climaxes and the song ends abruptly, which keeps the album exciting.
"Life is Simple in the Moonlight" gives Angles an elegant closing. The guys keep the percussion fairly light, and Casablancas' vocals get even gentler near the middle, almost like those of James Mercer of the Shins. He sings quietly about pretending he was better, the jealousy he held inside, and "forgetting the love we never felt." It's a bit of a depressing conclusion to the album, but it's pretty. They finish up with the line, "Don't try to stop us," which is appropriate since I certainly won't try to stop them if they consistently keep sounding this good.
All of the best songs are under three and a half minutes, and there are only ten total, which makes for a short album. But I guess five guys can only bang out so many songs when they're a band that faced a lot of artistic differences during the recording process. Ten songs might be a little short for an LP, but I'll take it.
Though I'm not prepared to wait another five years for the next album.