You put out a debut album, then instantly become the favorite band of teenagers the world over. The critics love you too, proclaiming your album a timeless masterpiece, leading the way for a new era of old rock. The songs are catchy and the music videos are quirky, so no one cares enough yet to think about whether the album is really worth such praise. You put out another album that’s equal or arguably better, but most people only notice that it’s not the debut. Save a couple fun singles, you lapse into mediocrity or worse. Years pass and the critics are proven right: your debut was undoubtedly a masterpiece, earning you endless good will from the millions of devotees who will continue to buy anything you put out for the rest of your existence.
If you begin in the ’90s, you’re Weezer; if it’s the 2000s, you’re the Strokes. With their new album “Angles,” the Strokes enter the next phase of Weezerdom, where the urge to measure up to past performance—specifically, 2001’s lauded “Is This It”—gives way to half-assed hyperactive goofiness. Frontman Julian Casablancas is thankfully more reserved than Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo ’06—his inoffensive lyrics and muffled delivery keep the album’s many missteps from becoming full-on novelty style parodies—but “Angles” remains uninspired, an album of antics from a band with few good ideas left.
Whereas most of 2006 failure “First Impressions of Earth” found the Strokes at their most lethargic, “Angles” is aimlessly energetic as the band attempts to hide lack of nuanced writing under dueling guitar riffs and unrelenting neon production. “You’re So Right” and “Metabolism” are the biggest offenders. The former is a sterile Radiohead imitation, complete with tinny drums and rapid-fire vocal repetition, while the latter attempts to combine the worst parts of “First Impressions” singles “Juicebox” and “Heart in a Cage” into another Fuse-ready menace. Both feigned attempts at mechanized paranoia come off as feverish moaning over the Super Metroid soundtrack.
“Angles” is flooded with these types of half-baked ideas pursued at full throttle, which were probably fun to record but make for a frustrating listen. Even the more tolerable tracks on “Angles” have awful bits that negate any sort of emotion the band might have been trying to build. Closer “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight” chugs pleasantly through Casablancas’ confessions of loneliness and envy, and the song builds to provide one of the albums’ only instances of dynamic variation only to come crashing down as Casablancas obnoxiously and arbitrarily croons “Don’t try to stop us / Get out of the way” over the sudden descent.
This isn’t the only wrench thrown by Casablancas, who never actually entered the studio with the band and instead contributed his vocal tracks over email. His strung-out Billy Joel impression on the terribly titled “Gratisfaction” and whining falsetto during the otherwise delicate “Call Me Back” make for some of his worst moments as a vocalist. Casablancas somewhat redeems himself on acrobatic opener “Machu Picchu” and the refreshingly straightforward “Taken for a Fool,” but neither song is interesting or mature enough to be considered a real triumph.
Only one song on “Angles” validates the album’s existence: the propulsive “Under Cover of Darkness.” Their best single since “Reptilia” in 2003, “Under Cover” finds the Strokes briefly rediscovering their strengths and their restraint: vocals that complement rather than mimic the music, bright but not blinding guitar riffs, and genuine enthusiasm that builds after every drum fill. “Don’t go that way / I’ll wait for you,” Casablancas sings to an “adversary and friend,” as he thankfully relies on his lighthearted charms instead of the strained vocal gimmicks that fill the rest of the album. Standing alone, the song is pure gold and deserves its place among the Strokes’ best. Sadly—like Weezer’s “Dope Nose” off 2002’s pitiful “Maladroit”—“Under Cover” seems less like a glimmer of hope and more a final farewell from a once great band as they completely surrender to their most self-indulgent impulses.
—Staff writer Jeffrey W. Feldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.