The Strokes: Angles (Sony)

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The Strokes: Machu Picchu
The Strokes: Angles (Sony)

When the Stokes out of New York invaded the airwaves and pop glossies a decade ago they came with an advance guard of salivating journalists and those who heard them as leading a ragged garageband revival by conjuring up the late Sixties/Seventies spirit of the Big Apple by referencing the Velvet Underground and dirty arse art-rock.

The Strokes were, put another way, necessary for American rock at the time -- and they could certainly walk the talk if not walk the walk. Their debut Is This It was a likeable joint-the-dots album: young record execs and those not old enough to have been there for the Velvets, Patti Smith etc had a band they could relate to.

Older journos liked the Strokes because they reminded them of their record collection. (There is more along these sceptical-cum-cynical lines here, should you care.)

The Strokes soldiered on through interviews, dating Hollywood starlets, being archetypal rock'n'rollers (the whole Guns N'Roses in fact) and -- to their credit -- they seemed to be enjoying most of it. (Although there was this from their producer.)

After a hiatus of about four years -- during which all band members save one released solo material -- they are back, although it has taken an agonisingly long time for these songs to come to life: Julian Casablancas and Nick Valensi started writing this material two years ago, which seems an awfully long time back given how thin some of these offering are.

Listening to the opener, the cod-reggae/Eighties pop of Machu Picchu, you just wished they'd stayed in bed a little longer.

If their debut and much of their other albums had kept the Seventies in mind there is a lot here which has them "growing up" . . . or, put another way, they have shifted a little focus into the Eighties in elements of New Wave-pop (Under Cover of Darkness, Take Me For a Fool, and Two Kinds of Happiness which wouldn't have disgraced a Cars album). 

Funnly enough -- and it is an actual irony -- it's when you get the old Strokes back (the one of the Seventies) that you feel rather better about this, a little.  

You're So Right is one of the odder tracks -- like prog-pop -- and the electrobeat of Games which is its matcher are actually quite interesting, although hardly memorable on an album which conspiciously lack a thrilling single. (It's a measure of how dire things are that the retro-pop of Under Cover of Darkness should be the first out of the gate.)

The Strokes delivered a decent enough debut album for the times, brought a bit of spark back into rock music -- if only for the arguments about their merits -- and then just carried on with lesser returns on every album.

Confronted by limp and shapeless material like Call Me Back, or worse the banal Gratisfaction, on this album -- which has been talked up, although interviewers telling concentrate on their re-formation while sidestepping critical comment -- Angles is, in a damning phrase from William S. Burroughs, an unworthy vessel.

Want to hear better from this corner of American rock? Then try this.

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The Riverboat Captain - Mar 21, 2011

Totally with you on this one. They've been saying in interviews what a terrible time they had when making it and, as some folks have said, if they're not enthusiastic about it, why should we be? A downward trajectory for sure.

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