Sometimes you listen to a record and the review writes itself. You know exactly what it means to you, what you love about it, hate about, what you wish it were or could be, how it makes you feel. Those are fun days, easy days. Even then, there's a risk that you'll change your mind one day but you've committed yourself to a stated opinion and analysis.
It's trickier when you aren't sure what the hell to make of a record. Some would argue you say nothing until you are sure, and that's probably the right way to go most of the time but I think it's okay sometimes to admit you don't know. Sometimes the questions are interesting, perhaps more so than the certainty and easily more interesting than a lot of vacillating, qualifying, and waffling so you can't be called on anything later.
It's been 10 years since The Strokes' masterful debut Is This It? and what a long decade it has been. They were hailed as geniuses and torchbearers of a hip new retro era and saviors of a decaying rock and roll idiom in desperate need of something – anything – new. Heavy was the crown and our Strokes struggled to maintain that on their follow-ups Room On Fire and First Impressions Of Earth. They took time apart and worked on solo and side projects before reuniting to create their new set, Angles.
Those who never lost their faith took to Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere with great anticipation of a new record from their heroes, sure this would be the moment when all the promises were fulfilled and this New York quintet would ascend to their proper place upon the throne of all that is righteous. The hype was returning. Did The Strokes bring the music?
I asked myself those questions and many others as I repeatedly spun Angles. Are The Strokes a kickass garage band that should be seriously enjoyed but not enjoyed seriously? Are they a Radiohead-styled artrock band? Are they hip young kids making witty, insightful observations about the modern age? How do I listen to this? How do I examine and understand it? Should I try? What are they trying to do and what the hell do I want from them?
The answer to that can be found in everything I loved about Is This It? It's not that I want them to recreate their debut over and over again but I miss the swagger of "Last Night" and youthful charm of "Hard To Explain." I want to hear a bass line as stunning as "Is This It?" and the catchy, manic thrust of "Take It Or Leave It." Whatever those songs meant, they were catchy on first listen and memorable long after the album was over. It was immediate and permanent. I can already tell Angles lacks the former and I'm not sure about the latter.
I like Angles but I'm not sure why or how much. I like the basic sonic template that is The Strokes and those elements are all here as are new flourishes that don't diminish who I think they are. "Under Cover Of Darkness" boasts the best, most memorable chorus. "Metabolism" is a dark, moody number with some great lead and rhythm guitar interplay with ambient keyboards adding just the right touch of color. "Life Is Simple In The Moonlight" won't be a single capable of connecting with a large audience but is a compelling listen. "Machu Picchu" has some of the vintage Strokes shake and shimmer over a laid back rhythmic bed.
It's a comfortable listen but the impact of their defining debut is missing. That was such a powerful, fresh album but the novelty has worn off and Angles is just their latest collection of songs. The Strokes are a good band with a great debut and some good songs, not a great band with a profound reach or looming legacy. They were a moment, and it has passed. They're not over but it's time to stop looking to them to be something it's clear they're never going to be.