How long have the Strokes been away? The last time they dropped an album, the airwaves were full of “Hollaback Girl” and “Laffy Taffy” and “Since U Been Gone.” Justin Timberlake was on the verge of bringing sexy back. Jay-Z was pretending to be retired, Britney had found her one true soulmate in K-Fed, and the Kardashian problem was still under control. Those were different times.
The New York boys’ first album in five years, Angles (out March 22nd; listen to the album’s first single, “Under Cover of Darkness,” below), is their return to basics: 10 songs in 34 minutes, closer in sound and spirit to the garage-band punch of their first two albums, rather than the prog-rock sprawl of First Impressions of Earth. Here’s a breakdown of the album, track by track. Welcome back, lads!
“Machu Picchu”: It opens Angles with a synthetic reggae hook that brings to mind Ace of Base, of all things. It sets the sonic template for the whole album: Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. flash their rhythm-guitar expertise, while Julian Casablancas moans lines like “I’m just trying to find a mountain I can climb.” As per usual on Angles, his trademark sex-mumble is mixed down so low, his lyrics get muffled – although he mentions a girl who’s “wearing a jacket made of meat.” Hmmm – who could that be?
“Under Cover of Darkness” (listen below): The lead single is an overt attempt at the “classic” Strokes sound of yesteryear; in fact, it sounds a lot like their first single, “Last Nite,” from their 2001 debut Is This It? When Casablancas sings “I want to be a puppet on a string,” the inflection in his voice makes him sound uncannily like his younger self snarling, “I’ve been in town for just 15 minutes now.” With a great guitar break from 2:46 to 3:12, it’s like the Strokes’ version of the Replacements’ “I’ll Be You” – a late-in-the-game reaffirmation of what they do best.
“Two Kinds of Happiness”: An early-Eighties rock production a la the Motels or the Cars, as Casablancas sings the Quarterflash-worthy line “Don’t waste your heart.” As with most of the tracks on Angles, the sleek and shiny production here shows the unmistakable influence of Phoenix – it’s obvious that the Strokes, like the rest of us, keep hearing Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix everywhere they go. Since Phoenix were initially pegged as “the French Strokes” before their huge breakthrough, the Strokes sound understandably eager to steal some of their thunder back from Phoenix, in the guitar-rock-for-foxy-girls department.
“You’re So Right”: A brief stab at harder, punchier rock, with a sped-up Black Sabbath riff, weirdly electro-processed vocals, and the chant “I don’t wanna argue.” The abrupt ending is a witty echo of “Hard To Explain.”
“Taken For A Fool”: Another track that sounds like the Cars, especially the vocal. Geez, Julian – Ocasek much? It showcases the Strokes’ knack for making their guitars sound like vintage synthesizers. Casablancas expresses a few thoughts about his love life, such as “You’re so gullible but I don’t mind” (that sounds reasonable) and “I don’t need any more women right now” (that sounds extremely reasonable). This one could have sounded right at home on the band’s 2003 album, Room On Fire.
“Games”: The new wave synth-pop move, based on O.M.D. and early Depeche Mode, with a Love and Rockets percussion hook and a chorus about “Livin’ in an empty world.” The guitar hook on the chorus is extremely Flock of Seagulls – the second Flock album, not the first one – and damn right that’s a compliment. By the end, Casablancas is aiming for uncharacteristic high notes in Bono-on-mountaintop mode.
“Call Me Black”: One of the album’s simplest tunes, with a quiet guitar intro leading into a Joao Gilberto-style bossa nova ballad. It’s three minutes of Casablancas doing his romantic sozzled-Sinatra croon (“I look for you / And you look awaaaay”) over sparse guitar and synth.
“Gratisfaction”: The Strokes tip their caps to Thin Lizzy, with Valensi and Hammond attempting twin guitar leads while Casablancas does a slick impression of Phil Lynott (or maybe he’s just doing an impression of Lynott’s Van Morrison impression). The title evokes Paul Westerberg’s solo album Suicaine Gratifaction.
“Metabolism”: Another new wave synth-pop tribute, with abrupt tempo shifts and some of Fab Moretti’s busiest drumming. For the high notes in the chorus, Casablancas busts out his previously undocumented Thom Yorke falsetto, holding vowels until he starts popping the buttons on his leather trousers. You don’t want his trousers to fall down, now do you?
“Life Is Simple In The Moonlight”: The finale is the longest song on the album – the only one past four minutes, actually – and the only track held over from the original sessions with producer Joe Chiccarelli. It’s an appropriately romantic farewell, with more Brazilian bossa nova chords and an evocative title (bringing to mind the Bright Eyes classic “Lua”). Lyrically, this is Casablancas’ finest moment on the album: “We talk about ourselves in hell / To forget the love we never felt.” It’s a stellar ending to a stellar comeback album.