ALBUM REVIEW The Strokes slip back out of whack
Fourth album provides new Angles; lyrics, electro-beats add fresh spin on classic sound
Released March 22, 2011
Electric Lady Studios
For those of you who are hosed with psets, are busy promenading awesome prefrosh around, or have particularly short attention spans, I can summarize the long-awaited Strokes album Angles with a quick Facebook-centric anecdote, generated in the weeks leading to the album’s official release this past March:
Feb. 13, 11:59 p.m.
Ana Lyons: YES, The Strokes unveil Angles album cover art.
Comment by Ana’s friend: I love The Strokes, but my gut tells me these songs will sound 99 percent like all their others.
Ana Lyons: WHICH ARE ALL SO GOOD [whereafter comment was repeatedly “liked”].
And thus it was said: “New Strokes” sound like “Old Strokes,” though it is evident Old Strokes are still awesome. But this would only be the bare-bones analysis. For the rest of us, I can summarize this fourth installment — after an excruciating six-year wait — of The Strokes with a few more words.
Angles is an album that is bound to be a classic for old fans and new fans alike, gaining its strength from fresh beats, refreshingly matured lyrics, and cover art that could make the MoMA beg for more (a bright yellow background with some unnameable fuschia and cyan geometric shape, almost floating on a black and white checkerboard floor — almost as if the design was intentionally a play on Salvador Dali’s painting The Persistence of Memory, but more geometric, with brighter colors, and ultra-modern).
Yes, to some extent, New Strokes sound like Old Strokes, but while the band remains true to their trademark sound (a steady drum and moaning guitar that echoes almost like the streets of New York City itself), many of the beats used throughout the album are entirely fresh.
The opening track “Machu Picchu” sounds almost electronic with beats and lyrics of “Never yours but someone else’s voice.” The slow, lingering start of the track “Call Me Back” and prominent use of repetition (with “Tell me, don’t tell me / The hard part is telling you”) is enough to haunt you all day and nearly break your heart. Perhaps it’s the title of the track, but the song “Games” has a happy go-lucky, almost pop-y vibe, that reminds me of Bob Barker — if he were ever to be reincarnated as a robot.
Unlike past albums — which focused on the thrill of experiencing, and then trying to forget, one-night stands, crazy rock star parties, and the ups and downs of youth and young love—the lyrics of this album have undeniably matured in the topics they address.
Starting with the debut track released from the album, “Under the Cover of Darkness,” The Strokes explore what seems to be a much wiser and selfless angle on love, patience, and loyalty: “Don’t go that way / I’ll wait for you … And I’m tired of all your friends / Listening at your door ” lead singer Julian Casablancas cries out.
In an upbeat but almost ghostly track, “Two Kinds of Happiness,” The Strokes demonstrate yet again their newfound maturity as a band: “Happiness is two different things / What you take and then what you bring / One is pleasure, one is the flame / One’s devotion, one’s just deranged” they say. Beautiful.
And in one of my personal favorites, “Life is Simple in the Moonlight,” the lyrics explore an awareness of both society and self in a way that has never been so frank. Among the steady beat of a drum, the words “Making fools out of the best of us / Making robots of the rest of us / Innocence itself in America today / Is a crime just like Cornel West might say,” float out of Casablancas’ deliberate lips and into your auditory canal.
This trend of self-awareness is yet again startling clear in the almost-”Heart in a Cage”-esque track “Metabolism,” where Casablancas reveals perhaps the band’s, his own, or maybe all our of own greatest fear, saying: “I want to be outrageous / But inside I know I’m plain / So plain / Just plain / Boring and plain.”
The comeback is nonetheless good for the band, but listening to the album and reading the credits, it is clear that Casablancas is the star in this album. His contribution to the creative development of the New Strokes is evident from several similar callbacks (of both style of song and even specific lines of lyrics), back to his own deeply introspective 2009 solo alum Phrazes for the Young (which is, interestingly enough, a direct play off of Oscar Wilde’s Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young).
I’ve racked my brain for harsh criticism and come back empty. Each of the songs is interesting and can entirely stand alone, but the tracks flow seamlessly from one to another when the album is experienced as a whole. The Strokes have lived up to the promise of the first line of their first new track released, saying: “Slip back out of whack, at your best.” Thanks for slipping back, guys. What took you so long?