On his last visit to Australia, the ever-charismatic Julian Casablancas stood on stage looking out at the 25, 000 people waiting expectantly below him upon the dry, dusty floor of Woodford’s amphitheatre, and laughed at what he termed as a ‘cauldron of humanity’. As the heat dropped and the wind picked up, the air became almost electric through the buzzing anticipation of The Strokes set. With the release just over six months later of their fourth, and presumably final album, this electricity remains just a faint memory of the past as the effortless punch of their performance fails to translate through what is perhaps their weakest album to date. The Strokes are trying, that much is obvious. And perhaps this is where the problem lies. Their appeal lay in their laconic dryness; their talent to make playing music look easy while releasing a sound charged with an explosive power is by far their greatest asset. But it was ten years since Is this It became a firm fixture within the musical canon and it seems that the creative ability of The Strokes may have become lost among the tracks of time. Television and The Velvet Underground have been substituted for the likes of Crystal Castles and Jackson Browne and while these influences are not bad by any means, the stamp of these new sounds seems half-baked rather than fully resolved.
It is the album as a whole, which has failed. Individual songs are not bad; indeed the better songs on the album Gratisfaction, Taken For a Fool and Metabolism are a callback to their old brilliance complete with a twist of fresh direction gained both from the development of musical technologies from the last decade and the legacy of great musicians of the past. But their failure to resolve all 10 tracks, despite the five years taken to do so, means The Strokes will continue to live in the shadow of their first and indisputably best album. It is true that Angles requires time – the songs improve on their third, or even fourth listen. But this does not change the fact that the fit of the album is messy while the combination of sounds seems erratic rather than interesting. You’re So Right is confusing through the grating layers of sound - the relentless beat and discordant metallic noise jarring - while in contrast the opportunistic harmonic melodies of Under Cover of Darkness are almost painfully pop in their cheeriness. Better attempts at a new style comes in the form of Call Me Back with a riff alluding to the work of Californian band Best Coast fused with the signature dry charm of Casablanca’s vocals.
I’d postulate that the album’s lack of coherency has more to do with the fractured recording process than anything else. Life is Simple in the Moonlight is the only track remaining from their work with producer Joe Chicarelli with the rest of the album being engineered by Gus Oberg in Albert Hammond Jr’s home studio. To make matters worse Casablancas was absent for much of the recording process instead recording his vocals independently of the rest of the band. As guitarist Nick Valensi told Pitchfork ‘I won’t do the next album if we make it like this… Seventy-five percent of this album felt like it was done together and the rest of it was left hanging, like some of us were picking up the scraps and trying to finish a puzzle together."
With the recent break ups of the White Stripes and LCD Soundsystem perhaps it is time to ask when it’ll be time for The Strokes to also call it quits. With the years getting on from their spectacular debut it seems the puzzle is breaking up rather than fitting together. I think that this will more than likely be it from The Strokes.
Highlights :: 'Gratisfaction' 'Taken For a Fool' and 'Metabolism'