The Strokes hit a new note
Troy Nathew | Thursday, February 7, 2013
By TROY MATHEW
“Is This It,” the 2001 debut album from The Strokes, was just incredible. Julian Casablancas, the band’s lead singer, sang like he had a bad hangover and the lo-fi audio made each song sound like it was being recorded via an old payphone.
This quality, along with the band’s affinity for catchy hooks and guitar solos, resulted in a sound that was beyond effortlessly cool. Critics hailed the album as garage rock’s return to glory, and consistently ranked it among the top albums of 2000s.
But that’s old news. I’m afraid those days are gone.
This fear is mostly grounded in 2011’s “Angles,” the band’s fourth album. “Angles” was released following a five-plus year hiatus for the band, during which breakup rumors ran rampant. Members of The Strokes pursued successful solo projects, most notably Casablancas and lead guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.
Their fragmented recording sessions for “Angles” were cause for further delay. After a set of sessions with producer Joe Chicarelli, 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.
Five years of anticipation and hype finally resulted in shock: ’80s-reggae-synth-pop?
The answer, in part, was yes, as the opening song of “Angles,” “Machu Piccu,” seemed to suggest. The track was among the strongest on the album, but signified a jarring break from The Strokes of old.
While elements of “Is This It” still remained on “Angles” – like short, punchy tracks and catchy hooks – they were buried under a heap of strange ’80s production effects. The album’s keyboard and synth production, not coincidentally, bore a strong resemblance to Casablancas’ solo album, “Phrazes for the Young.” While some songs were more typical of The Strokes, the album had a much different feel overall, and was largely a disappointment despite the few standout tracks.
Thankfully, The Strokes spared fans another five-year break between albums, as “Comedown Machine” is set to debut March 26. However, this has done nothing to assuage The Strokes’ fans anxiety.
The Strokes released a song from their upcoming album entitled “One Way Trigger.” If “Angles” was a step towards a new sound for the band, this song represents a full-blown immersion. The opening seconds of this new track will have any Strokes fan double-checking that this is indeed their beloved band performing.
Gone are Casablancas’ growling, nonchalant vocals. They are replaced with an unrecognizable falsetto, which gives way into the most ambitious vocal performance I’ve heard Casablancas give. Not trying and sounding cool has given way to trying really, really, hard and sounding tortured.
However, “One Way Trigger” has been deemed as a “grower” by fans, in the respect that it’s more enjoyable after a few plays. It’s definitely catchy, and has faint nods toward the band’s former glory, but strays too far from what the band does best to inspire any significant hope for “Comedown Machine.”
What’s indisputable is that The Strokes are masters of crafting a song and stringing it together. The chorus, bridge and inevitable guitar solo move forward in a smooth and dynamic way, and their songs have a definite sense of cohesion. “One Way Trigger” at least has this quality.
Judging the entire album by a single early release may come off as alarmist, but it seems hard to believe that The Strokes would put out something that’s not at all representative of their upcoming album. That would just be cruel.
“One Way Trigger” absolutely represents a furthering of the sound explored in “Angles.” That much is clear. What’s yet to be determined if whether this progression will persist throughout the album and abandon all that made The Strokes superstars.
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