The Strokes new album – a fan ponders

By Luke Allen

Despite being formed in New York City in 1998, The Strokes didn’t explode into the public’s view until 2001. Having just released their now-legendary “The Modern Age” EP, The Strokes were heralded by the British Press as the saviours of Rock’n’Roll, which resulted in a tonne of hype being generated both in the UK and across the pond where the band had previously been as good as ignored. Thanks to appearing on the cover of NME several times in a matter of months, the UK shows sold out straight away and made The Strokes instant stars. Julian Casablancas, Albert Hammond Jr, Nick Valensi, Nikolai Fraiture and Fab Moretti were thrust straight into the public’s view.

Thanks to their successful mainstream hits such as “Last Nite” and “Reptilia”, I feel that The Strokes have been given a false image that many people have accepted. Yes, they are a massive international rock band and yes, their photo shoots look almost too perfectly choreographed, and yes, their hits have been played on the radio countless times over the last 10 years. But the whole fandom thing that Julian Casablancas and the gang have inherited doesn’t quite clarify what the band are really capable of. Julian, or “Jules” as his close companions call him, is a genius in my honest opinion. Many people think he is merely a singer and the front man of the band. But in actual fact, he probably has more similarities to Burt Bacarach than he does to Joey Ramone (excusing the whole leather jacket and converse image that The Strokes reinvigorated upon their arrival!) After all, Casablancas wrote all the music and lyrics to the first two Strokes albums on a piano, then transcribed them with the rest of the band to fit their instruments, and ultimately their initial 1970”Ëœs fuzzy rock”Ëœn”Ëœroll sound.

Many people said that The Strokes were just recycling the sounds of Television and The Velvet Underground, but they were missing the point. Here was a band (as of 2001) that brought guitar music back into the mainstream with a bang, amongst a crop of fantastic groups such as Interpol, The Hives and Kings of Leon (they might be shit now but when they first arrived, I was impressed). They changed the face of Indie music. All of a sudden, kids were wearing drainpipes and leather jackets again (except the punks who obviously already rocked that look anyway!) I don’t think The Strokes anticipated the effect they were to have on music. One year after “Is This It” came “Up The Bracket” by The Libertines, which contained clear Strokes influences but with a punk undercurrent, brandishing rough and sporadic guitar and probably (definitely) a lot more drugs than Casablancas and the gang were taking. Just another example of the wind change that was taking place in indie music at the beginning of the 21st century, when The Strokes were presented to the world which they would then go on to conquer.

The second album, “Room On Fire”, was definitely a bit more grown up. Songs such as “Under Control” and “Automatic Stop” showcased a slower pace that still embraced simplicity as the songs from “Is This It” did, but with more maturity, as if the band was reflecting on its success and accepting their position in the big leagues. In some ways “Room On Fire” is a continuation of “Is This It”; the filtered fuzz box vocals from Jules are still there, but the album has a different feel than its older brother. The more you listen to it, the better it gets.

After the success of their second album, The Strokes came back in 2007 with a fresh sound and a new album, entitled “First Impressions of Earth”. The first three songs were released as singles and showed the general public the band’s bigger, cleaner sound. Whilst the songs all sounded like they could destroy stadiums, with epic guitar solos and huge drums at every turn, they still encapsulated the tenderness and passion that we loved The Strokes for. Every song sounds different to the last, and there are so many textures in the record that it really does feel like a journey through the minds of the 5 New Yorkers and all their colourful ideas. I still listen to the album today and find myself in awe of the beautiful poetry that Casablancas croons (minus the distorted vocal effects this time) whilst his band play songs that are a mixture of intricacy and purity. It’s the sound of The Strokes becoming more than just a rock’n’roll band, and stepping it up once again to show what they’re capable of. Something that still surprises me about this album is the amount of people I speak to that are indifferent to it. Whenever I discuss The Strokes with someone, the topic of “First Impressions of Earth” is usually met with an underwhelming: “Erm, it’s ok” or something along those lines. Ridiculous, it’s amazing! Each to their own I guess.

It would take 4 years for The Strokes to bring out another album. And on March 22nd 2011 we got it. The title, “Angles”, was apparently so because of the method in which the band recorded the LP. Rather than Casablancas taking the helm and writing the whole thing, each member contributed their own songs that would be narrowed down to a snappy 10 track release. Sources say that Valensi hated the system used to make “Angles”, and that Casablancas was barely present in the studio, instead opting to send his vocals to the rest of the band via email. Straight away one questions the bond that the band once shared after hearing such information. But the album is what counts. And “Angles” is a good album. It explores new territory for The Strokes, with an overly 80’s feel as opposed to their usual tendency to lean towards 70’s rock. Initially, opener “Machu Picchu” sounds like it would fit comfortably in an episode of Miami Vice with its funky bassline awash with tropical, sun-kissed imagery. It makes me want to rent a red hot rod and cruise down an L.A. highway, if that helps. Nothing the band has ever recorded sounds like “Machu Picchu”. Other personal highlights include “Two Kinds of Happiness”, which is the closest The Strokes have ever got to sounding like Journey. Casablancas’ vocals are absolutely top notch, stretching from a deep croon to high pitched cries that really make me wonder, how does he have such range? Its an epic song, finishing in a typical Nick Valensi finger-bleedingly-fast fashion.

The other two songs that really stand out to me are “Taken For a Fool” and “Gratisfaction”. The first is the most Strokes-sounding song on the record, harking back to the days of “Room On Fire” with its steady, basic drumbeat and “12:51”-esque guitar line. The chorus is effortless, “You’re so gullible but I don’t mind, that’s not the problem” and makes you remember why Julian Casablancas has one of the coolest fucking voices in the history of rock music. “Gratisfaction” is ultra-cool and upbeat, probably the happiest song on “Angles” and hopefully a future single. The chorus is bittersweet (“Cos you’re never gonna get my love”) but has all the qualities of a pissed-up sing-along.

Deep down I know that I still need to listen to “Angles” more before it really sinks in, but whilst it doesn’t touch any of the previous 3 albums in terms of impact or quality, its still a Strokes record at the end of the day and therefore still has some gems. Whilst not as consistent as the first 3 efforts, it still offers something new for die-hard Strokes fans and will give them a chance to mix up the genres in their live sets. It really is an album that you need to listen to and decide for yourself.

Personally I hope The Strokes carry on and make more legendary albums such as “Is This It”, but I don’t know if I’m confident enough at the moment to say they will, and I doubt they are either. I really mean it when I say that I sure hope so, but I guess time will tell”¦

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