At this point, I don’t think anybody knows what they want from The Strokes anymore. It’s been 10 years since the band dropped Is This It into the ears of a public unaccustomed to over-educated trust-fund bohos with a fetish for The Feelies and too much of your girlfriend’s attention. Their 20s are now in their past, a troublesome development for a band whose very 20s-ness defined them. But they couldn’t remain the young upstarts forever.
Which is all well and good; it’s an issue that’s faced countless bands before them and will vex countless bands to come. If a group stays the same, it stagnates. If it changes, it alienates. The problem Angles poses is: So what are The Strokes now? It’s a record that’s not sure. There’s no musical or sonic or thematic throughline, no over-riding sensibility or identity. To listen to the 10 songs on Angles is to listen to 10 different bands that all happen to have the same lineup.
That strategy might work for Guided By Voices (just kidding: No two GbV songs have ever featured the same lineup), but for The Strokes, throwing everything against the wall ends up sounding lost and desperate. Drummer Fabrizio Moretti takes his mechanical rhythms to their extreme with the stalling-motorik beat of “You’re So Right,” while “Metabolism” lurches with a chaotic seesaw riff portending post-punk doom. The Strokes become lush New Romantics for “Games” and give power-pop a go, biting Nick Lowe’s “So It Goes” hard on “Gratisfaction” and the guitar sound of “Shake Some Action” more gingerly on “Call Me Back.” The identity crisis plays itself out within a single track, “Two Kinds of Happiness,” which can’t decide whether it wants to be a nervy New Wave guitar song or a U2-style greet-the-sun anthem along the lines of “Beautiful Day.”
And when The Strokes retreat to old tricks, they don’t sound like they’re trying very hard to make them work. “Taken for a Fool” fills in the same general outline of “Alone, Together” with heavy inks instead of crosshatching, and the appealingly bouncy “Under Cover of Darkness” is essentially a rewrite of “Last Nite.” Even so, the latter’s jaunty, guttural bass/guitar bump is appealingly nifty, and “Macchu Pichu” features a sharp, intricate post-chorus riff.
There are isolated hooks that catch all over Angles, but the songs themselves are dully underwritten. The closing track, “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight,” isn’t a summation, a conclusion, or even an ending, just the last thing that the band spat out before turning off the lights. With each album, The Strokes have seemed to dissipate more and more. Now, with Angles, they’re just vapor.