Artist: The Strokes
Label: RCA/Rough Trade
Running time: 34:09
"See if you can get the Royal Wedding in there somewhere," suggested Headhoncho David Kerekes when I mentioned my plan to review the new Strokes album, Angles.
"Out of patriotism?" I asked, a little confused.
"No," said Kerekes, his eyes a-sparkle, "that way we'll get more hits from anyone googling the Royal Wedding.'"
God knows how many google pages an ardent royalist would have to trawl through before finally getting to worldheadpress.com. Rather a lot, I suspect. But what the hey, I thought, obediently meditating on a way to tie these two roughly contemporaneous events into a tidy package.
The best I could do was remember that Will and I are the same age, and first met our respective wives (presuming Will doesn't succumb to history's most famous case of cold feet, or Kate isn't blown up by a plucky) at around the same time, during what was his first or second year of university. Now, I can't speak for the royal couple, but in my case memories of this period have a few musical tattoos courtesy of the Strokes' wonderful debut, the deservedly renowned Is This It, an album that made writing immortal guitar music (as opposed to exhausted guitar music) sound as easy as falling off the wagon.
One such memory from that period was me and the missus splashing about in a bath at 2am on New Years Eve 2001, sniffing carefully balanced lines of coke from a portable mirror and bellowing along to the Modern Age. Did Will and Kate do any such thing, I wonder? Possibly not (I always had them down more as Masonic Lodge/ Harvey Nichols sorts). Nonetheless, it would be hard to imagine, say, Kate falling for Will and not once noting the choppy guitars and unusually agreeable melodies oozing from the stereo of some very posh Edinburgh student house party, and perhaps not only noting it but doing so with that special aesthetic generosity with which we greet songs while falling in love (even if we happen to perhaps be falling in love with an idea, rather than the terrified simpleton with the premature balding and obsessive compulsive hand wringing that happens to embody it).
Whether Kate took enough of a shine to those "edgy" riffs to check out Is This It's successor, Room on Fire, is anyone's guess. I did, and while it had its moments, you could not but observe that it sounded significantly less effortless than the debut. What it implied overall, even, was that the Strokes were a sort of fluke, and that their luck was draining away with alacrity.
This was further confirmed by the next Strokes album, First Impressions of Earth, on which the enjoyably exuberant opening salvos- You Only Live Once and Jucebox -quickly made way for an atmosphere of utter creative exhaustion. An exhaustion implicit, perhaps, in the six year hiatus between that record and the new one, a time span that hardly testifies to a bubbling creative potency. Once again, however, Angles' opening couple of songs (and in particular the opening couple of bars of the first of these, Machu Picchu) lift the spirit high enough to stir fond recollections of druggy baths and terrorist attack. But then…
A word from our sponsor. It would appear that Angles, to judge by some of the promotional interviews, is no mere album, but a unique confidence-building masterplan put together by frontman and (on every other Strokes album) solitary songwriter Julian Casablancas, a scheme specifically designed to coax his fellow band mates from their shy shells. This process hinged on Casablancas keeping his distance from the rest during the recording process, and sending in lyrics, three-chord motifs and general suggestions by carrier pigeon. Well, email. "When I'm there," explains re-born life-coach Casablancas, "people might wait for me to say something. I think it took me being a little mute to force the initiative." The purpose here, it would seem, is entirely moral, with Casablanacas attempting to make up for his band-mates' stunted maturity, presumably caused by their early exposure to his rock'n'roll genius. Let's hope it worked, and they've finally caught up with their reading age following the exacting experience (which guitarist Nick Valensi described as "just awful") of having to cough up an entire album of aimless indie music without the instruction and encouragement of their singer, founder and creative powerhouse.
Yeah, I said it: aimless indie music. There's been plenty of talk of "experimentation" from the Stokes camp over the years, but the thing is - no one listens to the Strokes for sonic novelty. No one cares whether Strokes records that sound a little bit different from the last thanks to some quirky producer, a stack of recent releases and a six figure production budget. Nope. Kate and I, we go to the Stokes for tunes. Stuff to sing along to while we wash up or take coke. You ain't Radiohead lads, and no amount of production fripperies can camouflage Casablancas' apparently errant capacity to write songs - the real reason, we strongly suspect, that he suddenly flung open the floodgates to the rest of his timorous band of upper middle-class Manhattanites. Put it this way, if Kate cared once, it's unlikely Angles is the album that'll one day bring back the heady build up to her wacky wedding day.