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Strokes of Genius: ‘Angles’ goes 80s

Troy Mathew | Thursday, March 24, 2011

The last time the Strokes released an album, you were most likely celebrating the recent accomplishment of earning your driver’s license and listening to songs like “My Humps” and “Gold Digger” on the radio. Needless to say, it’s been a while.

However, the kings of effortlessly cool, New York’s finest rock export, did not take a five-plus year vacation following the release of 2006’s “First Impressions of Earth.” Band members, most notably guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. and lead singer Julian Casablancas, pursued successful solo projects, while break-up rumors ran rampant.

Their fragmented recording sessions for “Angles” were also cause for delay. After a set of sessions with producer Joe Chiccarelli, the band decided to scrap their progress entirely. Keeping only one song from their initial recording stint, the Strokes rewrote and remade the album, top to bottom, in Hammond Jr.’s private recording studio in upstate New York.

And so, after five years of anxious waiting, “Angles” has finally been made available. This lengthy wait on the latest work of the garage-band-revivalists finally culminated in shock: ‘80s-reggae-synth-pop.

Opening track “Machu Piccu” makes this new style obvious. Although stylistically surprising, the first track is among the strongest on the album. It features what makes the Strokes unique: catchy guitar riffs and Casablancas’ signature perfectly nonchalant vocals.

As suggested by its garishly-colored geometric cover art, “Angles” has an overwhelmingly ‘80s vibe. Along with “Machu Piccu,” “Two Kinds of Happiness” and “Games” sound like they could have been plucked from a Duran Duran album. These tracks feature a synthesizer without sound cheesy or obnoxious.

The Strokes maintained their essence. Remnants of garage rock can still be heard, they’re just buried under a heap of totally rad ‘80s production. Much like their first album, the critically-acclaimed “Is This It?,” “Angles” has short, punchy tracks with only one reaching past the four-minute mark.

The creation of “Angles” was considerably more democratic. For the past three albums, lead singer Casablancas was the primary songwriter. “Angles,” however, features songs written from a variety of sources. This quality is reflected in the album’s lack of cohesion. Some tracks are very reminiscent of Casablancas’ solo work on “Phrazes for the Young,” while other tracks, such as “Gratisfaction” and “Taken for a Fool,” fit in easily with the band’s prior work. “Angles” is more a grab bag of songs than a focused effort on coherence.

While this seemingly random assortment features some spectacular highlights, other tracks are underwhelming. “You’re So Right” is an example of experimentation gone wrong. The electro-processed vocals and screeching guitar make for what sounds like bad Radiohead. “Call Me Back,” the simplest track on the album, is, frankly, boring and doesn’t hold interest like its more upbeat companion tracks.

The flaws of the album are admittedly minor. However, as an ardent Strokes fan, I hold this album to an impossible standard. Considering the supreme talent of the five members and the five-year time period for the completion of “Angles,” anything less than mind-blowing perfection from the Strokes would be a disappointment.

All things considered, “Angles” makes for a hugely enjoyable musical experience. While going in a completely unexpected, ‘80s hair-band direction, it doesn’t sacrifice any of the qualities that make the Strokes my favorite band.