At a recent show in Vegas - their first gig in promotion of 'Angles' - The Strokes opened with the Room on Fire track, 'I Can't Win'. This seemed an incredibly appropriate choice, because it is exactly the problem the band will be facing with this, their fourth LP. In fact, you could say that this has been true of all their efforts since groundbreaking debut 'Is This It', which arrived in such a flurry of hype and excitement that the guys have unfairly had it very tough with the critics and the public-alike since.
They're constantly put-down by the more smug, resentful critics as being a lazy rip-off of The Velvet Underground and Television, but simultaneously when they break away from the more scuzzy rock'n'roll sound the critics - and even some fans - say they're trying too hard and wish they'd go back to "sounding like The Strokes" (because who would want a band to grow when they could try to make the same record over and over again, right?!). And after a five year break, far from being forgotten, the group played some of their biggest shows to date, and there has been much heady anticipation surrounding album number four. Regardless of what they do then, it seems they'll never please everyone, but - perhaps as a result of so much critical acclaim so early on - the great thing about The Strokes is that they don't take the media too seriously.
However, the speculation during the band's incredibly long hiatus seemed to highlight resent within the band, and issues with Julian Casablancas being the sole songwriter; an 'I Can't Win' situation with critics and fans is something they seemed to accept with a shrug, but when it got to the point that only one member of the band seemed fully happy with their output, change was in order. As such, 'Angles' saw material coming from all five members of the band and - although not quite a perfect work - it's definitely an album that proves a certain amount of compromise can be a very great thing indeed.
Again, by making an album that attempts to please everyone in the band, it's an album that certainly won't please all its listeners - forays into 1980s new wave sounds, synths and songs that wouldn't sound amiss on albums by groups as diverse as TV on the Radio and Thin Lizzy? Even guitarist Nick Valensi has agreed that it might not appeal to some of the fans.
But for those willing to branch out a bit, whilst still embracing the happy rock of early Strokes, 'Angles' is quite the album. On first listen you immediately grow attached to certain songs (notably the incredible sunshine shuffle of opener 'Machu Picchu' and the smooth beauty of final track 'Life is Simple in the Moonlight'), but there are songs that initially appear to be weaker. This is by no means a weakness of the album though, but a strength, because 'Angles' grows on you like a venomous tentacula (yes, I went for the geeky HP ref). Songs that didn't immediately grab me - 'You're So Right' and 'Two Kinds of Happiness' - are now songs I enjoy listening to, especially the former with it's awesome intensity. For swirling electro epic 'Games', guitar rock purists are given lead single 'Under Cover of Darkness' which is a song that most definitely has that fun, nonchalant Strokes "sound". There is definitely something for everyone here.
(I love the use of the YOLO video at the beginning of this, because it does sort of point to the fact that this is The new Strokes).
So for me the main problem is what was perhaps always going to be an issue with 'Angles' - the cohesiveness of the album as a whole. As the first Strokes album with five contributors - The Strokes 2.0 - I feel like the band still need to work out a balance, because from my point of view the album doesn't quite flow as nicely as it could. It's a minor flaw though, and all the new sounds combined with old make me very excited for seeing the band live again, and also fill me with thrilled anticipation for album number five.
And as Valensi said, “You can’t make everyone happy. I’ve always liked the fun swing of Last Nite, Someday and UCOD, but we have to grow too. It’s impossible to make every fan happy. The other members are my barometer. We’ve thought this way since the very first record.”
This is what's so great about the group, because it's really the attitude all bands should have; if they're happy with their music, then screw everyone else. Luckily for us, when The Strokes are happy with something, it tends to mean it's pretty bloody wonderful. They're not the same band they were 10 years ago, but why should they be? 10 years ago I was listening to Sum 41 and Shakira - people change (although to be honest I'm still a big fan of my old Destiny's Child albums. And don't get me started on *NSYNC and JT).
Anyway, at the risk of embarrassing myself and sounding incredibly cheesy: for me at least, The Strokes always win.
'Angles' is released tomorrow on Rough Trade and subjective love of the band aside, I really do think it's an album worth listening to. You can buy it from here.