The Strokes’ new album isn’t genuine.
Half of the 10 tracks are poorly composed — the other half get old by the third time you play them through. But this isn’t necessarily bad news.
Last weekend, to celebrate the release of Angles and to kick off a slew of upcoming shows, The Strokes joined nearly 3,000 bands in Austin, Texas, for the annual arts convention South by South West.
SXSW is an event where thousands of bands fight for the spotlight.
Over the past years, the festival’s outcome has usually set the stage for what is to happen to the music scene for the upcoming year.
The Strokes played a free concert in a park where 20,000 people showed up, hopping over fences to get in. The band, of course, played most of its new album including the single “Under Cover of Darkness,” which features The Strokes’ old tricks of parallel beat construction and simplicity.
It’s the strongest song on Angles and it’s good enough that you really can listen to it 10 times on repeat and still not be bored.
Whereas they typically play stoically and in perfect form, they played sloppily and carelessly, making it look like it’s easy being a badass rock star.
It was awesome and critics across the Web praised it as the highlight of the festival. The show featured new and old tracks and ended fireworks ablaze to their biggest hit “Last Night.”
That single came out on their first album, Is this It, in early 2001, when there were emerging indie garage rock bands popping up seemingly everywhere.
The Strokes led the pack with a low-fi rhythmic accord that just about everyone seemed to like. And it’s hard not to like.
The fretwork of guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr., drive the rich sound that singer Julian Casablancas unduly gets most of the credit for as the face of the band.
The Strokes pushed their style, toning the instruments to Casablancas’ unique voice with candid crescendos and shrills throughout their second album, Room on Fire. These two albums are easily the best music of this decade.
It’s why I believe they are part of the chorus of debaucherous denizens of cool — closer to the Beatles, Black Sabbath or ZZ Top than a local fuzzed out garage band.
But like most solid rock bands, they produced a somewhat mediocre album — First Impressions of Earth — and the decade pushed members away to work on side projects.
Another band that launched, The White Stripes, finally bid the project adieu last month to “preserve what is beautiful and special” about the band.
Around the same time, out of left field came the announcement that The Strokes, who were on a five-year hiatus, had been recording an album to be released shortly.
The Strokes are unlike White Stripes former frontman Jack White — they don’t believe pushing a musical group past a decade means you’re bound to die like Elvis did, on the toilet in the middle of taking a dump.
It seemed hard at first to differentiate whether The Strokes and The White Stripes were following a formula of “dial in a bit of fuzz guitar, add a ‘the’ in front of a cool descriptive noun, and play over simple drum beats” to produce music that defined the rock genre of our generation.
The Strokes broke from that mold and tried something different on this new album.
The tracks “Machu Picchu,” “Two Kinds of Happiness” and “Games” feel closer to 1986 than they do 2011 with heavy use of palm-muted guitars and synth.
However, when they return to form in “Taken for a Fool” it feels vivacious and driven — it makes me remember why I liked The Strokes.
In this track Casablancas seems to recall the recent years where his bandmates went separate ways: “I know, everyone goes any damn place they choose / And I hope everyone well on the toxic radio.”
By toxic radio I think he’s perhaps suggesting the negative influences on the core that is The Strokes.
Another recall back to past ways is the percussion-less “Call Me Back.”
It features a dramatic choral arrangement, yet seems to be discussing how a couple is disappointed to be anticipating the other on a lover’s tryst: “Waiting time is the worst, I can hardly sit / No one has the time, someone’s always late.”
Speaking of lack of appearances, Casablancas famously didn’t show for the album’s recording.
Valenti told Pitchfork that his bandmate’s vocal tracks were recorded elsewhere and sent in via email.
Perhaps, though, the overall theme of the album can be summarized by the coolest song’s name, “Gratisfaction.”
Where Casablancas probably means intensely satisfying gratification, I look at the album as a mismatched collection of an explored style that feels gratuitous and the songs that actually satisfy the listener and the musicians.
The reason why I don’t simply dismiss this album as something to immediately hock back to the record shop is that there is some solid material. The tracks “Under Cover of Darkness,” Taken for a Fool” and “Call Me Back” are robust pieces of music that I will be listening to for years to come.