The Strokes’ real problem isn’t ‘Is This It’ – an albatross of excellence that (yeah, yeah) “made guitars cool again” and unwittingly nudged the garage rock bar out of reach of everyone, including themselves. It’s how long it takes them to make their next album that sounds a hell of a lot like you thought the next Strokes record would. They’re like the anti-Kings of Leon in that respect; refusing to rapidly shit long-players for fear of being forgotten, but also showing little sign of wanting to progress beyond drawled vocals and everlasting lead guitar licks that sound like they’re coming from a keyboard. Lazier still is the band’s reluctance to adequately tour and promote these records, which makes the wait until the next one seem a lot longer than it really is. I mean, a one-album-every-two-and-a-half-year-average is far from prolific, but it could be a lot worse. These are The Strokes’ real problems, not their debut album, as faultless as it remains.

‘Angles’, then, is most probably exactly what you’re expecting – a collection of ten very Stroke-ish songs that sound like they’ve been knocked together in a month or two rather than through an epic struggle of creativity that began when ‘First Impressions of Earth’ wrapped way back in 2006. And yet it remains enviably exciting, classically cool and features the kind of guitar pop highlights that only The Strokes can make wholly credible.

To skip over the cracks, ‘Metabolism’ (sounding like it should live on the latter half of ‘First Impressions…’) and ‘Call Me Back’ (a minimal interlude that doesn’t hold the album back due to being so glaringly downbeat but rather because of its directionless, demo-like quality) needn’t have shown up, while the vaguely chill-wave ‘Games’ is slightly more welcome – kinda like the ugly wingman of the person you’re really trying to pull: a necessity not too horrible, and one you can entertain to get to the good stuff. And between ‘Games’ and this ‘good stuff’ is where you’ll find current jaunty single ‘Under Cover of Darkness’, as well as the closing ‘Life Is Simple In The Moon’ – a dreamy song of nonsensical lyrics that suit its title.

As was the case with the last Strokes record though (and the one before that), it’s at the front end that you’ll spend most of your time, skanking to the white reggae bounce of ‘Machu Picchu’, constantly rewinding ‘Two Kinds of Happiness’ to see if Roxy Music’s ‘More Than This’ will sink up with the intro (it goes a bit Bruce Springsteen shortly after) and realising once again that only Julian Casablancas can write a major chord melody like that of ‘Taken For A Fool’ and not sound like as corny as Paul McCartney while singing it. Nothing is more impressive than ‘You’re So Right’ though. A track that suggests just how current The Strokes could sound if they really could be arsed, there are times where the vocals sound like those of Crystal Castles, others where Casablancas’ drones as if he were These New Puritans’ almost-singer Jack Barnett, and its austere drum machine thrum (a little Suicide, a lot Gary Numan) definitely make the band sound their most dangerous yet.

Really though, while this brief step out of line is welcome, The Strokes don’t need to do anything differently, other than perhaps look a little more busy between releases. They’ve changed guitar music already, so it’s hardly their place to do it again, and the fact that ‘Angles’ features some of the finest songs that will come from a conventional four-piece this year probably shines a light on the incompetents of others rather than the single dimension of a band that have inspired hundreds of average bands but few who currently offer an alternative for us to get as excited about quite like we do every time The Strokes return.

By Sam Little

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