March 30, 2011

You Call This a Comeback?

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Every ship has a captain. For The Strokes that captain is none other than lead vocalist Julian Casablancas, a New York native with a hefty heritage. Under Casablancas’ brilliant leadership, The Strokes sailed into the spotlight in 2001 with the band’s outrageously popular Is This It and the almost-as-spectacular sophomore album Room on Fire. During those first few years The Strokes managed to put indie rock on the map, and as a reward their treasured “Last Night” snaked its way into Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

However, when the captain abandons ship — to put out a solo album — the tide and the tune changes a smidge. It’s clear on The Strokes’ fourth studio album Angles that Casablancas relinquished much of his artistic direction, as the band experiments with a different sound. The boys may have left Gary Coleman at home, but these are distinctly different Strokes from their previous albums.

“Under Cover of Darkness” was released in February. Animated and playful, the song hinted at the good old days, before the band tried to dabble in other sounds and styles. But as it turns out, the only other song that edges outside of the box but still retains the best of Is This It is “Taken for a Fool.”

Some of Angles’ experimental work paid off, although it’s played with obvious reluctance and almost sheepishness that shouldn’t be felt from a band that has been playing together for over a decade. “Two Kinds of Happiness” is a bouncy dance track with some surprising, old school hooks. “Machu Picchu” and “Games” are nods to the 80s, with far-away handclaps mixed in with screaming keyboard and classic chords. “Gratisfaction” is a true gem, a carefree and sway-worthy track that is performed with more charm and dedication that most others on the record.

Casablancas may have let the boys take the wheel creatively, but his influence — albeit severely unfocused — is evident on a few tracks. On “Call Me Back” Casablancas bemoans that “no one has the time, someone’s always late” and he is truly self-deprecating in “Metabolism,” complaining that he’s plain when he aspires to be outrageous. And since the music isn’t lively enough to balance out his whines, we’re stuck drowning in his sorrow.

Angles isn’t the raging comeback that everyone was waiting for, but there’s hope for the future — if only Casablancas would remember his loyalties, ditch the side gigs and hit the studio. With only 46 songs to their name over the last decade, The Strokes don’t have the luxury to go out in glory just yet; there is some hard work involved.

Original Author: Heather McAdams