Review: Angles (The Strokes)

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland meets Inception

The neon-bright colours emitting from the very expressive and innovative album cover of the Strokes 2011 “comeback” release, Angles, do hint a bit at the energy and creativity to come. But, as far as I’m concerned, Casablancas and Crew’s creative genes were never in question. The inquiry of importance is more related to the success of this experimentalism that both fair-weather and long-time Strokes fans have come to shun.

It’s true- The group’s last release (2006’s First Impressions of Earth) was a massive disappointment for most. Alternative rock fans craved that old-timey garage rock that made the Strokes’ debut Is This It so celebrated, and First Impressions dropped this vintage sound like it was a bothersome burden.

After only hearing two little tastes of Angles before its release (the back-to-the-basics “Under Cover of Darkness” and the electronic, off-puttingly monotonous “You’re So Right”), the Strokes’ latest effort arrives today with mixed expectations.

As it turns out, this genre-splitting pair of samples is a fair representation of the styles on Angles. “Machu Picchu,” “Gratisfication,” and “Life is Simple in the Moonlight” harken back (albeit, faintly) to the Is This It Room on Fire era of the band, while little trinkets of First Impressions-esque experimentalism comprise the vast majority of the rest of the tracks. While the return-to-roots pieces are admirable and pleasant, the looming oddity of the electronic influences casts a visible shadow over what could be considered a true “comeback” for the band.

The band gets ahead of themselves constantly, expecting ears (new and old) to favorably and amiably respond to hyper-active guitar riffs (“Metabolism”), dreary tedium (“You’re So Right”), and anxiety-ridden dramatics (“Call Me Back”) without much substance to salvage. On a second ride through the electronic chaos, things are not quite as unpleasant; though, voluntarily returning for a second/third listen isn’t always a listener’s default desire.

And Angles does have its respectable components. Leader Julian Casablancas channels a bit of both Bono and Bowie on “Two Kinds of Happniess,” the band is quite in unison and in groove on opener “Machu Picchu,” and the upbeat, get-your-feet-movin’ rhythm of lead single “Under Cover of Darkness” is certainly winning and contagious. Even imperfect pieces such as “Taken for a Fool” and “Games” grow upon further listening.

It’s no Is This It, but it’s far from a First Impressions. Maybe the band’s ever-shifting sound is finally growing on me, but this isn’t a horrible disaster of an album. The brevity of Angles is an additional bonus; no protruding fat in need of elimination, per say.

Angles definitely requires room to grow, though. If you can handle a few spins, you might end up enjoying it. That’s about all that can be promised here.