The Strokes have long been proof of the veracity behind the old adage that there’s no pleasing some people. They were criticised by some after 2003’s Room on Fire held many similarities to the groundbreaking album, Is This It, of two years previous. Then, a shift in sound came about for 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, although then many folks bemoaned the contrast between that and their older work. So, in the midst of reported friction between members of the band, they had to decide in which direction to take the fourth album. Would it be a return to the simple yet subtly-sophisticated rawness of their earlier music? Or would they continue to go in the direction that FIoE didn’t just hint at but practically shouted- a departure from that classic Strokes sound?
The answer is not the former. Yet, somehow, it’s not solely the latter either. What makes Angles feel special is that they’ve retained their early musical proficiency, and have actually managed to learn from the mistakes of their last LP, as evidenced by mid-album track Games. One of the worst moments on FIoE was the dreary Ask Me Anything’s monotonous drone of a chorus, in which Julian Casablancas repeatedly insists ‘I’ve got nothing to say.’ Games features the same single-phrase choral formula, ‘living in an empty world,’ but this time he’s appositely accompanied by gleaming synths, making for a chorus that’s more than listenable- It actually stands out. The 80’s throwbacks don’t end there though, with the verse of Two Kinds of Happiness bearing a similarity to that era’s disco music so clear that even I, a 90’s kid, can recognise the striking concurrence. But then The Strokes blow more air into the winds of change, with the chorus of said track erupting into a crashing, wildly syncopated chorus. Oh, and yes, they did learn from the most significant mistake of their third album, which was that it dragged on and on, (almost 20 minutes longer than the two albums that preceded it) with Angles clocking in at just 34 minutes.
Gratisfaction is certainly a timeless track, remarkably reminiscent of a Beatles track penned for Ringo to sing, yet differs in that it isn’t actually bereft of melodic substance. Possibly the happiest-sounding song they’ve ever released, it hints at a personal satisfaction with the world after ten years of bemoaning what seems like every possibly aspect of life and love, but a close inspection of the lyrics reveals a playful, cruel teasing, ‘But you’re never gonna get my love!’ What could also be seen as cruel, but to the listeners, is the inclusion of You’re So Right. It’s not without positives, but on the whole feels remarkably disjointed. With its short running time of two and a half minutes, however, it can be overlooked rather easily. It’s one of few lowlights, however, as the excellent tracks just keep on coming. Call Me Back channels a celestial, ethereal vibe- two adjectives I never would’ve thought I’d use in the context of The Strokes.
The opening two tracks attest to their obvious ease when letting their guitars lead. Opener Machu Picchu blatantly ‘borrows’ from classic Australian nationalistic hit from decades ago, Land Down Under, and features a hook that exemplifies guitarist Nick Valensi’s growing finesse, with his solos sprinkled just sparsely enough throughout the album to not render them null and void. Under Cover of Darkness feels like it’s thrown in just to prove that they could make another Is This It if they wanted to, as it really is absurdly catchy, and a worthy first single.
It is, however album closer Life Is Simple In the Moonlight that stands out more than any other track on the LP. Delicately-plucked verses lead into a pre-chorus that perfectly captures the don’t-give-a-damn vocal style that Casablancas has used so well in the past, before he insists ‘Don’t try to stop us / Get out of our way.’ This could suggest that they have many more years in the tank as a band. But, as a noticeable alarming number of Angles’ tracks abruptly end seemingly mid-riff, I don’t think too many people would be overly surprised if The Strokes went the same way, especially with Valensi’s claims that the recording process was ‘Awful- just awful.’ However, even if plans for the future are hazy, it is clear that even if they can’t quite please everyone, The Strokes will have more than pleased a multitude of people with Angles; they’ll have left them feeling absolutely stoked.