Thursday, March 31, 2011

Everybody's been singing the same song for 10 years, but none do it like The Strokes

It seems like there's no way to say something about the Strokes these days without bringing up their debut album.

A decade after its release, it's still tough to deny that it is the benchmark for which everything Julian Casablancas and crew do, and it's still arguable that the New York quintet are still yet to produce an effort capable of topping Is This It.

I can still remember hearing "Last Nite" on the radio when that album first launched. The tag the media placed on the band back then was that they were a new school, modern band who were trying to emulate the sounds of old rock and roll, a sound that had largely been lost and discarded.

It was a neat experiment, but I didn't see where they could go with it long term. As cool as "Last Nite" was, I simply wrote The Strokes off as being a gimmick.

Now, ten years later here I am, spilling ink over these very same Strokes, so I guess the joke's on me.

You've got to admit it's been a hell of a ride for these guys. Whispers about these guys being saviors of rock have long dissapated, but the fact remains The Strokes are one of the few great rock bands remaining whose creative vision remains largely unblemished by the corrupting hand of major label influence (knock on wood).

And given that The White Stripes recently went up in smoke, this statement becomes even more true.

The Strokes are also one of a select few bands that have managed to change and evolve over the years without considerably straying from the roots and/or pissing off a large portion of their fanbase. In this digital age in which information travels at warp speed, that's a hell of an accomplishment in itself.

So the newest Strokes record, Angles, breaks a five year absence since the release of their last full length, 2006's First Impressions of Earth 

Angles rests its hat on three main elements: the off kilter but alluring melodies that can only be delivered by a singer like Casablancas, the always eclectic and innovative play of guitarist Nick Valensi, and a jangly 80s pop vibe.

If the faux retro 80s style album cover doesn't clue you in on that, expect to be made fully aware of it when the bouncy bassline and airy chords of "Machu Piccu" kick in. When Casablancas's vocal crackles through the microphone, you can just picture him sporting a giant boombox on his shoudler, with frizzy hair, and wearing his sunglasses at night.

But then you get to the chorus, where Valensi lets loose with a shredding guitar riff which reminds you that The Strokes do know how to rock.

The first three tracks are easily the standouts. "Under Cover of Darkness," with its soaring chorus and a sweet solo, could easily be one of the top songs of the year. "Two Kinds of Happiness" features some truly breathtaking moments, most notably the uplifting guitar riff following each chorus.

The rest of the album is still good, but can't quite measure up to the stellar 1-2-3 opening punch. The melodies are certainly unqiue, but not all of them click; it seems sometimes as if they're just throwing things against a wall to see what sticks and what doesn't.

"Call Me Back" moves by at a middling pace and doesn't really go anywhere, and "Games" doesn't do much better. But "Gratisfaction" kicks things back into high gear with an energetic tune that sounds like it could have been culled directly from 70s FM pop radio.

"Taken for a Fool" is a highlight with its sense of groove and attitude, while "You're So Right" buzzes by at warp speed. And "Life is Simple in the Moonlight" is the perfect parting for these Strokes, and perhaps does the best job of conjuring an Is This It type of vibe.

The Strokes are one of those bands where you never know exactly what to expect from them, but it usually turns out to be at least solid. Angles will sometimes make you question whether you're in New York City or Vice City, but does a great job of showing that the guys know how to loosen up.

Although not flawless, The Strokes have once again delivered another statement in rock and should be able to satisfy fans who have eagerly awaited this record for the last five years. It's been a long wait.

Score: 80/100

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