Fourth Strokes album adds to confusion with unfocused feel

Not quite a comeback, not quite a meltdown: after five long and awkward years following erstwhile rock saviors The Strokes’ confusing third album First Impressions of Earth , their fourth studio record comes as a bit of a…surprise. For a band that took the world by storm in the early aughts for the stripped-down, reserved simplicity of their first two albums, the new Strokes is much more angular (sorry), with unconventional chord progressions and odd song structures. The old mainstays of fast guitars and steady rock-and-roll drums are reduced on Angles , and cut out completely in the arcade-retro track “Games,” which features gentle synthesizers and drum machines. Except for the lead single, “Under Cover Of Darkness,” a fantastically high-energy, modern track which fooled all of us as to the true nature of Angles , the album is dominated by a retro feel, harkening back to the late 70s and 80s. That’s not to say that it feels world-weary (save the dark, dreary “You’re So Right”); just unsure of itself and its influences (which might be explained by the fragmented, group-written nature of the album). “Two Kinds of Happiness” is split between emanating The Cars in the verses and early U2 in the choruses; Vietnam-era rock ditty “Gratisfaction” could probably pass as a legitimate tribute to The Turtles or mellower Queen. “Metabolism” recalls First Impressions of Earth . “Call Me Back” fluctuates from laidback lullaby to intense anticipation. However, there are certainly moments in which The Strokes feel at home and sure of themselves. “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight,” the album closer and the lone track remaining from the band’s original sessions with producer Joe Chiccarelli, chugs along warmly with a guitar solo bordering on atonal, yet comfortable, modern jazz, and one can hear strains of 2003’s Room on Fire in the controlled, relaxed “Taken for a Fool.” These moments are, in a word, delightful; not just in the context of and comparison with what the Strokes used to be, but just as music to listen to and enjoy. Despite the hype, pressure, and dark side of fame in the ten years that have passed since the Strokes crashed onto the scene, Angles at times shows that the darlings of modern rock-and-roll have still got it…although it’s stowed away in a medicine cabinet somewhere. Must listen: “Under Cover of Darkness,” “Taken For A Fool,” “Two Kinds of Happiness,” “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight”