Until I got the package in the mail, cut open the box, held the jewel-case in my hand, and had one of the year’s loudest album covers staring back at me, part of me didn’t actually believe that Angles was real. Part of it was the five years it’s been since Last Impressions of Earth, the band’s 2006 misfire, and the years of in-action that followed. But even more than that, no one in the band has sounded enthused about making Angles, aside from “Well, we found out how to not make an album”.
But, after two years of “We’ll make an album, I guess“, here’s Angles. The album doesn’t quite stumble out of the gate, but the electrified reggae feel of “Mach Picchu” doesn’t seem entirely believable as an opener. Second song/first single “Under Cover of Darkness”, a Strokes classic in the making that plays without abandon, would have been much more logical.
“Under Cover of Darkness” works so well not because of how much of a throwback it is, but because The Strokes are such a lock-step tight band. Part of this fiery musicianship might be that Angles was created primarily by the band’s instrumentalists, and Julian Casablancas recorded and e-mailed vocal files from a removed location (and you wonder why no one was having fun making this record?). “Under Cover of Darkness” is one of about three songs that invokes a vintage Strokes vibe, the others being the freewheeling “Gratisfaction”, and “Taken For a Fool”, the latter of which has the best hook of the album.
On the flipside of the signature sound coin, the band also uses Angles to try out some new ideas. And like any album trying new ideas, the results are varied. Towards the better side of things is the aforementioned “Machu Picchu”, which even though it’s an odd choice for The Strokes, works well enough.Other success story, “Two Kinds of Happiness”, is covered in New Wave with a dash of U2 on the chorus thanks to lead guitarist Nick Valensi, and the synths are a nice touch. “Metabolism” is where the split nature of the album’s recording process comes back to haunt it; Casablancas sounds like he’s at odds with the music behind him.
Other experimental tracks fall short of the mark. The drum-less, floating “Call Me Back” is a wonderful track instrumentally, but ends up being too meandering, and the layered vocals sink an otherwise ok song. Angles‘ real lowpoint, though, is “You’re So Right”, which feels like a few random jams forced together, and somehow makes two and a half minutes seem too long. But, despite some unevenness, the album closes on a high note with “Life Is Simple In the Moonlight”. It’s one of the band’s few attempts at balladry, and the strong chorus, wonderful solo, and great melody make it a smashing success.
Taken as pieces, Angles is a modest success; it hits slightly more than it misses. The hits are better than the misses are worse; even though “You’re So Right” is a mess, the sheer charm of “Taken For a Fool” makes up for it. At the same time, though, the album clocks in at 10 tracks in 34 minutes, which makes it go down easy, but also makes any misteps almost fatal. As a whole, the record takes bold steps, but has trouble hitting a stride; the track order never really lets it hit a flow. As a welcome back after five years off, Angles feels a little like a warm-up, but with a band as good as The Strokes, even watching a stretch is exciting, three and a half out of five stars.
tl;dr: Angles finds The Strokes realizing what they want The Strokes to be, three and a half stars.