I was an 18 year old senior in high school when The Strokes burst onto the scene in the fall of 2001. I immediately liked them, for all the cliched reasons. I loved their style. 5 skinny guys in cool vintage clothes wearing converse. When you’re 18 years old in 2001, you pay attention to the trends on MTV, and for what seemed like the previous formative ten years of my childhood, every musician on TV was either a snotty group of California skater punks, a slicked back collection of glittering boy band douches, or macho jewel encrusted rappers. Even all the nerdier groups were obnoxious and “in your face.” No one was standing up for something truly cool, that is, until the likes of The Strokes and The White Stripes came along. At last, here were young people who understood what made rock and roll fun, and who were not massive sell outs in any obvious away. But of course, overnight, a massive backlash was unleashed. The Strokes became objects of ridicule and scorn. And it was easy to see why. Here’s a list of the top 3…
First of all, they were too pretty. A fact inspiring mucho jealousy and derision from the 99% of the populace that didn’t fall into the “gorgeous human being category.” Well aren’t most people in show business fabulously beautiful? Yes, but the difference falls in complaint #2.
They didn’t say much. Julian Casablancas and his cohorts released a record with no message, no opinions on world politics, and no banners of outright rebellion. Lyrically, it was just your typical indie rock fare, nothing embarrassing, nothing memorable though. And in interviews, they had less to say. Casablancas wasn’t John Lennon, and his bandmates were mutes. He just came off as a withdrawn private guy, bordering on pretentious.
Third, they were already rich. How did they get famous people wondered? Oh, they are all the children of millionaires, and therefore must have had some kind of unfair advantage. In this regard, the Strokes proved to be trendsetters again as the 2000s saw a proliferation of awful people who seemingly bought fame. The Paris Hiltons, the Nicole Richies, and the Kardashians can all thank the Strokes for being the first spoiled rich kids to get something that they didn’t deserve. Now, I’m not crazy, there is a million miles between the likes of Paris Hilton and Julian Casablancas. After all, he is a legitimate artist, but there are thousands of legitimate artists as good as Julian, who have to work and have no money, connections, or time to organize a successful rock band. (Yours truly for one.)
These were the three major crosses the Strokes had to bear before people would consider their music. And for many, it was enough to damn them, and perhaps rightly so. But for me, I still liked them. And I have several reasons. First of all, their record, Is This It, was fucking good. It was a beautiful combination of retro and new. They had a knack for hitting that sweet spot of rock and roll ecstasy. Their music had tension, texture, energy, and balls. Songs would explode perfectly into jubilant anti-choruses while perfectly toned guitars were strummed in satisfying synchronous patterns behind Julian’s soaringly strange voice. Julian knew how to write stirring melodies that perfectly suited his dark voice, and it was an achievement. I looked up to him as a songwriter. If anything, The Strokes are the story of a boy who wanted to be a great rock and roller, and I can relate to that. Its a beautiful fantasy come real, and one a lot of young struggling dreamers can relate to. Unlike the rock and rollers of the past, who had no one to compare themselves too, with basically everything they did revolutionizing pop music from the 50s through the 80s, modern kids who were born in the 80s and loved great rock and roll slowly realized that nearly EVERYTHING had been done. Rock and roll was stagnate, used up, and fast becoming irrelevant as the 90s drew to a close. Kids with a serious love and appreciation for good rock and roll just couldn’t write Hey Jude or Subterranean Homesick Blues, and they couldn’t go on churning out clownishly bad dissonant music. A revolution of songwriting began, launching a new era of artists, across all genres. People slowly began to understand the value of merging the new with the old, and the hook with the experiment. They did this all by continuously overloading the pop with joy, and trimming the dumb out of the pop at the same time. Right now in 2011, I feel like this revolution has finally begun to grip itself in the mass consciousness. Sure, music still basically sucks at the highest level of the commercial vomit kingdom, but the internet does allow for anything good to get viral. Also, the sheer plethora of music out there, all so easily available, allows for people to find groups that suit their tastes and emotions to near a perfection of similitude. I believe a golden age has dawned, and I feel like The Strokes were right there at the start of it.
I don’t think The Strokes are legends, or are geniuses, or are deserving of some kind of special praise. I just feel like, conceptually, they were onto whatever this new era of good is, and are abstract symbols of it. So much of “making it” in rock and roll is coming along at the right time, and lucky for The Strokes, they did just that. Now, they are back with their 4th album, Angles. This is my first problem with The Strokes’ new record, its only their 4th since 2001! That is awful. For the type of band they are, and for the breaks they got, they should have lived in the studio, releasing a record a year. Its too little music in too long of a time. On top of that, their 3rd album, 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, was as terrible as its title. So, now, 5 years later, we get Angles, a record that did not sound like it took 5 years to make. Overall, it’s a solid bounce back from their previous shit fest, but one they could have spun out quickly to erase the previous embarrassment. Why is this point so important? Because while this record features a lot of songs that are nice and “Strokey,” all it does is remind us of what they had in the first place, the ability to write addictive little pop gems that whiz by with charm and energy.
Another problem? There are only 10 songs, and there should have been more. I don’t know, but part of me suspects Julian Casablancas can write a dozen songs as awesome as his new “Gratisfaction” in his sleep. Maybe if they gave us like 15-20 inscrutably fun pop songs, overloading our brain’s pleasure receptors, The Strokes could have claimed the mantle of indisputable kings of garage rock. Instead, we get ten fairly entertaining songs with no real classics. But it is all well made and produced. I love the deep 80s nostalgia vibe on the formless “Two Kinds of Happiness.” Its this kind of 80s Caribbean vibe that is also strongly featured in the opener, “Machu Picchu,” an odd tune that may or may not contain a Lady Gaga reference. It’s a good song with very interesting rhythms and guitars, but with a vocal melody not befitting the opener. In fact, I think this album is horribly sequenced. When the lead single, “Under the Cover of Darkness,” kicks in at slot #2, the groovy dark vibe established in the opener evaporates. What we get is a song so different in mood, key, and energy, that it just seems jarring and misplaced. Is the song good though? Yea, but the video is terrible. One of their worst. Just watch for yourself.
I was actually really excited for this video, interested in seeing the boys return perhaps to their “Last Nite” style. Something straightforward where you can see them play their instruments for real. Alas we get some dumb video of them in a mansion while a camera pans to all the members not really playing together while Julian “directs” them like an idiot conductor. Next we have the albums shortest and worst track, “You’re So Right.” It’s an awful indie techno jam of some kind with a bad hook. A good thing though about this album is that the guitars really sound great. I love the tones, very restrained, organized, and compressed, the sound they are so good at achieving. The fifth track, “Taken For a Fool,” features this guitar work in spades. I think the melody is weak, but its got such strange and beautiful guitar work that it makes up for it. Track #6, “Games,” returns us to the odd 80s vibe again, and I like it. Its moody. “Call Me Back,” is a typical indie ballad, nothing too great, and “Metabolism,” is a bit dark and ugly, but dramatic and sweeping I guess…Oh it does feature some really creepy lyrics, “I wanna be a rapist,” I think he says, strange. The closer, “Life is Simple in the Moonlight,” is more mood music, not my favorite either, though it might grow on me. I think there might be a solid melody underneath.
Anyway, overall, I give the record a B-. Its got enough good songs on there that remind you of The Strokes’ glory days, but not its not nearly consistent enough to rise above being merely good. I still think Julian is a really good songwriter, and I still think The Strokes put together a really interesting sound when the day is done, but as far as them being a symbol for something greater, I think this record will end all that for good. Now they’ll just be one of thousands of decent of bands they’ve inspired over the last decade, which aint too bad.
Tags: 2011, Albert Hammond Jr., Angles, Call Me Back, converse, Fabrizio Moretti, First Impressions of Earth, Games, garage rock, Gratisfaction, indie rock, Is This it, John Lennon, Julian Casablancas, Lady Gaga, Last Nite, Metabolism, MTV, neo-rock, New Strokes Review, New York City, Nick Valensi, Nicole Richie, Nikolai Fraiture, Paris Hilton, pop rock, Record Review, Rock and Roll, Room on Fire, Taken for a fool, The Kardashians, The Strokes, The White Stripes, willie simpson