March 17, 2011

Album Review: The Strokes' Angles

In 2001, The Strokes became torchbearers of the modern day culture of music hype with their debut, Is This It? With their chic fashion-forward vintage style, moppy hairdos and throwback garage rock-meets-new wave sound championed by a new breed of taste makers in Internet bloggers, today's "indie" rockers have Julian Casablancas and company partly to thank for allowing little bands to get big fast. However, there was a moment back in 2006 following the release of their coolly received third LP, First Impressions of Earth, where it seemed like all the buzz had gone quiet for the NYC quintet and even The Strokes couldn't stand themselves. An extensive hiatus was announced, nearly every member dabbled with an underwhelming side project and five years later, The Strokes have returned as the biggest band in the world... Wait -- What?!?...

If there's one thing to be said about Angles, The Strokes' first new album in five years and their fourth since Is This It? marked the dawn of a new era in music a decade ago, it's that hype has remained constant in defining these five hipster snobs' success story. After all, The Strokes are the hype machine originators and they've played their cards well by staying out of sight as a collective unit, milking the "Will they or won't they reunite?" question for years and in turn, making fans forget that the last time we heard from them, they were an over-produced shell of their former selves opening up for Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. The most aggravating aspect about The Strokes' big return is that for all the grief and speculation about their future, you would have expected NYC's prodigal sons to at least give listeners' something more than another regurgitation of the past. Casablancas' fierce, gruff howls on top of Albert Hammond, Jr.'s neon guitars in a backsplash of new wave and post-punk, etc. etc. -- It's all here... again.

Anyone who's heard anything by The Strokes -- or even subjected themselves to Julian Casablancas' 2009 solo album, Phrazes for the Young, for that matter -- has heard Angles (Unless you're on track 4, "You're So Right," which will have required you to be familiar with Radiohead's Kid A.) The same disappointment that has come with each new Weezer release since The Green Album applies to The Strokes here to a lesser extent: Spearheaded by a misleading lead single that tugs at the band's nostalgic glory days (in this case, "Under Cover of Darkness,") the end results in frustrating defeat. Nothing in particular on Angles stands out any more so than anything that the band has done before (hence, why AwkwardSound isn't bothering to nitpick through more-of-the-same.) The Strokes simply haven't figured out how to not make the same album twice -- or in this case, four times in a row.

On the bright side, Angles at least proves these guys need each other to make semi-tolerable music considering none of their side projects seemed to ever take off. Yet, there's even a problem with that. You'd think these five dudes would be excited making music together again after such a long time away from the studio, but Angles suggests this is a cash grab reunion of sorts. The one-time crowned princes of urban bohemian rock stardom couldn't even bring something fresh or original to the table after all these years, making the answer to the rhetorical question asked in their debut album's title more obvious than ever.

The Strokes' Angles will be released March 22, 2011 on RCA Records.

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