‘Underwhelming’ and ‘The Strokes’ were not word combinations that existed within the same lexicon before 2011. Then Angles happened, and ten years on from Is This It, The Strokes sounded like an estranged cousin of the band who had previously provided the world with a gift of indie rock majesty.
Thankfully, a decade on from Angles, The Strokes proved with The New Abnormal in 2020 that they are still one of the premier alternative bands on the planet, a group who are still relevant after 20 years at the top. However, in 2011, that mask of relevancy slipped. After five years without a record before the release, you couldn’t get much more highly-anticipated than Angles, their avid followers seemingly desperate to hear another masterpiece from a band that had soundtracked their collective adolescences. However, the combined response was one of dejection from the supremely disappointing comeback record.
The album failed to replicate the magnanimity of their previous three efforts and, in truth, felt like an album that any middling indie band could conjure up. The New Yorkers, prior to this moment, had built up a reputation for their innate ability to always remain one step ahead of the curve, setting patterns of creativity unlike any of their contemporaries. Still, on Angles, apart from the occasional momentary reminder of their innate talent, it lacked the heart that made us fall in love with The Strokes. It was the sound of a band who had lost their identity.
The process of creating the record was a tumultuous experience. Albert Hammond Jr. was suffering from addiction and went to rehab during the recording process, a situation that threw the band off-kilter. Meanwhile, singer Julian Casablancas recorded his vocals separately from the group. Unfortunately, that lack of cohesion translated to the overall record. Guitarist Nick Valensi famously said before the release, “I won’t do the next album of we make it like this. No way. It was awful – just awful. Working in a fractured way, not having a singer there. I’d show up certain days and do guitar takes by myself, just me and the engineer. Some of the third album was done that way, but at least we were on the same page about what the arrangements and parts were. Seventy-five per cent of this album felt like it was done together and the rest of it was left hanging, like some of us were picking up the scraps and trying to finish a puzzle together.”
When Valensi was pressed on whether he was pleased with the result, the bassist hardly gave a convincing response, noting: “I mean…yes…It’s a tough question because I think the whole point was that I was going to let things go, so there’s a bunch of stuff [on the record] I wouldn’t have done.” That kind of comment fails to set the heart racing, and seemingly, before the album release, the band took it upon themselves to lower the expectation. When The Strokes themselves didn’t even believe in the album they were gearing up to share, then why should the public?
Even though difficult circumstances were engulfing the record, ‘Taken For A Fool’ is an indie floor filler that couldn’t be by anybody else. Another classic Strokes moment arises from ‘Undercover of Darkness’, as is ‘Life Is Simple In The Moonlight’, closing the record in eloquent style.
The first half of the album has everything you’d hope for a Strokes record, but, as the project progresses, the energy slowly peters out before the final track gives a dose of much-needed buoyancy. However, it is too little too late to revive the sinking ship.
A decade on from the Angles debacle and The Strokes have reclaimed their crown at the mountain top of alternative music. Following the release of The New Abnormal, a record that recently won a Grammy for ‘Best Rock Album’, remains one of their finest bodies of work they’ve made since 2003 effort Room On Fire.
Many bands don’t manage to come out the other side after a prolonged creative slump, but mercifully The Strokes have finally again proved that they aren’t just another band.