The White Stripes have just disbanded. Interpol is down a legendary bass player and skidding ever faster towards irrelevance. And the Vines—Christ, whatever happened to them? Of the Indie Rock Class of 2001, only The Strokes are still standing. In the ten years since their lauded debut “Is This It,” individual projects have abounded—singer Julian Casablancas released his disappointing effort “Phrazes for the Young” in 2009, guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr. has carved out a hugely overlookable solo career, drummer Fab Moretti formed the underrated Little Joy with Los Hermanos’ Rodrigo Amarante, and bassist Nikolai Fraiture created his own band under a name so painful—Nickel Eye—that I never could bear to listen to their sole release.
It’s been five years since the band were last united, for 2006’s catastrophic “First Impressions of Earth,” and with Angles, they’re taking a new approach. This time around, Casablancas isn’t the only songwriter, and with Fraiture on backing vocals, it’s also the first time that he’s not the only singer. He’s also taken a huge step back from the production process, recording his vocals separately from the rest of the band. It’s a risky move; we all know the perils of a musical dictatorship (see: Billy Corgan) but Julian Casablancas’ autocracy worked, at least for the first two albums.
Given the hodgepodge of new influences, Angles sounds either intriguingly diverse or just scattershot. I groaned inwardly over the “Ace of Base-esque” first strains of opener “Machu Pichu,” (Casablancas’ first line is “I’m putting your patience to the test”—tell us something we don’t know, Jules) but brightened as the song picked up, building towards an instantly catchy chorus that would have fit in well while standing out as a bright spot on the grim “First Impressions.” They keep the energy high with the fantastic single “Under Cover of Darkness” as track number two. It’s “Room on Fire”–era Strokes–more polished than they anything on “Is This It,” but just as effortless and youthful sounding.
For an aging band on something of a reunion tour, “Angles” is surprisingly good. While it deflates slightly in the second half, there are more high points than low. “Taken for a Fool” is the stand out track, perfectly blending the eighties vibe that appears throughout the with the Strokes of the good old days. “Gratisfaction” is the only disaster; overdosing on eighties schmaltz, it conjures shades of Barry Manilow.
Sad but true: the Strokes have officially become a band for “people of a certain age.” No one new will be buying their albums; they will most likely continue coasting on their devoted fan base for the rest of their careers. And while “Angles” is certainly good, it’s not great, nothing worthy of a band heralded as the saviors of rock ’n’ roll. But as a long-time Strokes fan, it’s hard not to be excited about this album, which would, were it released by almost any other band, be considered a disappointment. “Angles” sounds like a challenge; “Is This It” sounded as easy for The Strokes as lacing up their Chucks. After completing “Angles,” famously frank guitarist Nick Valensi said, “I feel like we have a better album in us.” Here’s hoping.