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The New Strokes: Democracy in action

March 27th, 2011

You can do a lot with five years. The Strokes have chosen not to do drugs anymore.

Having moved beyond the stereotypical rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that was admittedly ruining their music and the band, their new record, “Angles,” sees them reinventing and rediscovering the music that made them rock stars in the first place.

“Angles” is both their least complete and least structured album to date, and it delivers 10 reasons why The Strokes are still one of the most relevant bands active today.

Compared with their earlier work, everything about the creation of “Angles” is different, from top to bottom. The album took longer to make, its structure is much less controlled, and there is a higher premium put on production than any of its three predecessors.

The biggest change comes in the form of the record’s songwriting. For the first time singer/frontman Julian Casablancas is not the sole contributor. The other four Strokes were allowed to contribute in a formative sense this time, and it shows.

“Angles” doesn’t have a unifying thread that ties it together. Instead, it is best viewed as a sum of its parts, and there are some really great parts.

The range on display throughout the album’s 34 minutes is surprising and welcomed from a band that has been cynically pigeonholed in the past.

The collaborative approach invites a variety of sounds and textures that is unexpected from the The Strokes.

“You’re So Right” is the closest to full-on electronic as the band can get. Its muffled maze of staccato drums and mechanic, flattened vocals is a sneak attack.

A three minute romp finds “Gratisfaction” applying the Strokes formula to ‘50s rock: somewhere this song should be playing in a malt shop.

The biggest departure from their previous sound comes in the form of the record’s best track, “Call Me Back.”

There is something present here that is hard to find on any other Strokes song: legitimate emotion.

This is a devastating love song, something the Strokes have never done.

When Casablancas sardonically moans, “Breaking up is so much fun to do,” behind haunted guitar chords, it’s genuinely scary.

Lyrically, the closest The Strokes have come to something like this on previous Strokes albums is “Meet me in the bathroom, that’s what she said. I don’t mind.”

In spite of all the new elements, “Under Cover of Darkness” is stone-cold Strokes music at its best.

This track could have been on the band’s genre-rescuing debut album without a hitch. Excited, raucous and delightfully shallow it’s a microcosm of their career.

There is so much variation that the only aspect missing is something to tie it all together. If the album has even a small downside it’s that at times “Angles” seems more like a collection of 10 independent songs instead of one complete record.

This new team effort is a radical change and is still ongoing. Like any massive upheaval, this will take time to perfect.

Regardless, “Angles” is a positive step away from the narrow scope of their original sound to a more diverse identity that gives them more room to play with.

It would be easy to dismiss the record’s lack of coherence as a once-great group grasping at straws or allowing token participation from all members (think Weezer post 2002), but that would be a gross oversimplification of what this album is. In fact “Angles” is a band growing up. The change hasn’t been perfected yet, but it’s impressive nonetheless.