Monday, April 4, 2011

Angles - The Strokes


The Strokes
RCA Records.

SCQ Rating: 74%

A wrench snagged up the Strokes’ promotional gears just weeks before record-release when Pitchfork aired a ten-year retrospective that quoted band members clearly disgruntled about Angles’ recording process. Upon first read, it signaled doomsday for the NYC group once relentlessly billed as rock saviors but the word-of-mouth it created (in no small part among Pitchfork devotees who shun like a reflex) has actually rendered Angles an effective litmus test for determining the Strokes’ continued relevance in certain cliques. Would-be pundits online were outright panning it on the day of its leaked while major print publications (Spin, Los Angeles Times) quickly championed it as if vying for way-late cool points. For those old-school fans waiting on a physical release, it was difficult determining which group you could trust.

What nobody likely predicted was that the Strokes had a grower record in them, one that would come out at a time when the band is no longer post-millenial sensations or scrappy major-label underdogs. To be a Strokes fan in 2011 – especially in the face of an album reportedly pieced together by various members when pressured and alone – means depending upon one’s own judgement and no longer relying on the undeniable cool that deemed their first two LPs universally accepted. Although its risks likely emerged not because of a common goal but as an effect of shitty band relations (where the closest contact Casablancas had to the band was by emailing his vocals to the studio), Angles reflects that fragmented experience in a way that's mostly complimentary.

The reggae-tinged lark that is ‘Machu Picchu’ forecasts not only a great album that never comes to be, but a flurry of other career moves over its following half-hour. On one hand, ‘Two Kinds of Happiness’ continues in the vein of Room On Fire’s occasional retro muse with a Billy Idol inspired anthem whereas ‘Games’ ups the polish for a dance-friendly pulse. These detours, after a few listens, sit pleasantly with their lankier guitar-fare (‘Taken For a Fool’, ‘Under Cover Of Darkness’), making good on the unspoken promise of a Strokes album less bloated than First Impressions Of Earth but still lightly experimental.

Repeat listens, while crucial, won’t buffer out Angles’ odd weak point. The trajectory of ‘Call Me Back’ quits just when it’s gaining momentum and the half-finished ‘You’re So Right’ pillages the considerable steam built up by the record’s first three tracks. Moments like these have stifled fans’ cries of “comeback” but they’ve also beckoned the trolls from their caves; those same kids who’ve long accused the Strokes of being privileged, overnight success-stories. Old habits may die hard for some, but nearly a decade after the band’s peak popularity and subsequent backlash, Angles offers enough quality to keep both the fan-boys and haters somewhat frustrated.

No comments: