“Putting your patience to the test” is the first line to come yelping from Julian Casablancas’ e-mailed in lips on The Strokes’ 4th album. And ‘You can say that again’ might well be the first retort on the lips of many irritated fans, who have now been waiting for the undeniable greatness of ‘Is This It’ for 3 whole albums in a row. Just forget it folks, let it go. That album has been and it’s gone. The Strokes are not interested, maybe not even capable, of being that band anymore. Boo-hoo.
And you know what? I say good for them. Because for the first time in 10 years it sounds like they’re having fun. Alright, maybe not Casablancas. Having opted to become an aloof and estranged figure during recording, he sent the rest of the band his contributions over the internet. Consequently his presence hovers like some shifty hologram over the earnest efforts of his “friends” for much of the album. But, bizarrely, it doesn’t seem to matter… except maybe on ‘Metabolism’; I love the instrumentation on this track but I just find Casablancas’ desperate whines distracting, as they roll restlessly around on top of the music, striving hopelessly for a place to settle.
Still, anything is better than their last album. After struggling through the mostly unlikeable ‘First Impressions of Earth’, I thought that The Strokes were not only bored but a little depressed with being themselves. They did show signs of trying to break into new ground, of distancing themselves from the hype they had engendered, but were just too unsure and mopey to be convincing. So after a self-imposed hiatus and various droll solo outings, it was important for The Strokes to prove they could still show us a good time.
And for the most part, they do. In fact, they almost go too far the other way. Many of these songs find them so excited they’re shooting off at all angles, dipping into a spot of Gary Numan synthyness here (Games), dabbling with a bit of classic rock Thin Lizzy there (Gratisfaction). It’s restless – reckless even – but also very infectious.
Lead single ‘Under Cover of Darkness’ epitomises this new-found energy most, with guitar leads playfully see-sawing off each other like a pair of hyperactive kids who’ve eaten too many Fruit Pastilles lollies. And the riffs in ‘Machu Picchu’, ‘Taken for a Fool’ and ‘Gratisfaction’ have this bouncy jollity built in too. Also – brace yourselves for this – I don’t get the big problem with ‘You’re So Right’. Ok, so it might be the least “Strokes” song on here, but the bass is insistent, almost grimey, and is capped decisively by the edgy mid-song solo. The real spanner in the works for me is ‘Call Me Back’. This song is such a moodkiller it’s like the depressing sulker who invited himself to the party and somehow manages to bring the mood down for way longer than he should get away with.
On the whole, I like this album. It’s not gonna set the world on fire. Big deal. And there’s problems behind the scenes is there? Well, shit. What I care about is the music and ‘Angles’, thankfully, finds The Strokes in a good mood. And for this reason, so am I.
Ch-Check It Out If You’re Partial To – being pleasantly surprised; bands gamely trying to move beyond the image and standard they’ve created for themselves; Julian Casablancas’ solo stuff; New Wave; Thin Lizzy; bongos, that’s right bongos; happy riffage; cringing now and again
Fantastic Track – Do you dare me? Do ya?! Alright then I will… You’re So Right.