really surprised at this one
Julians solo effort was much better
kept waiting for something to click, but it never happened
Grade - 1.3
released Mar 22nd, 2011
from the album - Under Cover Of Darkness - 1.5
from all music
Equally inspired by classic tunesmiths like Buddy Holly and John Lennon and the street-smart attitude and angular riffs of fellow New Yorkers Television and the Velvet Underground, the Strokes were also equally blessed and cursed with an enormous amount of hype -- particularly from the U.K. music press, whose adulation for the group rivaled their fervor for Oasis in the early '90s. Barely in their twenties by the time their debut album, Is This It, arrived in 2001, singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti's success wasn't quite of the overnight variety, but it still arrived pretty swiftly.
Casablancas (the son of Elite Model Agency Group kingpin John Casablancas), Moretti (who began playing drums at age five), and Valensi started playing together in 1998 while they attended the Dwight School, a private prep school in Manhattan. Soon thereafter they met Fraiture, who attended the Upper East Side's Lycee Français, and added him to their ranks. Hammond (the son of singer/songwriter Albert Hammond, whose songs include "It Never Rains in Southern California," "When I Need You," and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before") came from Los Angeles to attend film school at NYU and was invited into the band by Casablancas; the two met at L'Institut le Rosey in Switzerland when they were kids.
Casablancas officially christened the quintet the Strokes in 1999, and the group spent most of that year writing and rehearsing material in New York City's Music Building. They made their live debut that fall at the Spiral, and word of mouth about the Strokes' incendiary live show propelled them to gigs at venues like Under the Acme and Lower East Side clubs such as Arlene Grocery, Baby Jupiter, and Luna. The Strokes' December 2000 dates at the Mercury Lounge and the Bowery Ballroom not only gained them a manager (Ryan Gentles, who booked them at those clubs), but also helped Strokes mania reach critical mass in New York. Rough Trade released the group's three-song demo as The Modern Age EP in January 2001, which sparked a bidding war from which RCA emerged as the victors.
Meanwhile, the Strokes' acclaim reached the U.K. and grew to massive proportions over the course of the year. NME quickly became their champions, profiling them several times that spring and summer as the Strokes' live act and singles like Hard to Explain (which debuted at number 16 in the U.K. charts) won them a rabid British following. That spring, the band also completed its first U.S. tour as the opening act for the Doves and proceeded to play dates with Guided by Voices and ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead in the U.S. and the U.K. The group's popularity continued to snowball in the U.K., with a side-stage slot at the NME Carling Weekender changed to a main-stage performance for fear of people trampling each other to see the band.
In late summer of that year, Rough Trade released Is This It with an album cover featuring a sexy, Helmut Newton-esque photo of a woman's nude behind and hip with a leather-gloved hand resting on it; the U.K. chains Woolworth's and HMV objected to its controversial nature. The U.S. version of Is This It was released in October and featured a few changes from the U.K. edition. The Strokes opted for an abstract pattern on the cover and removed the song "New York City Cops," feeling the song was inappropriate in the wake of the terrorist attacks that struck New York prior to the album's release; the planned B-side, "When It Started," took its place. The group closed out the fall with an extended tour of the U.S., culminating with a Halloween gig at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom.
The remainder of 2001 and 2002 saw the group's profile continue to rise. Is This It and the Strokes were lauded in many ways, ranging from This Isn't It, an EP of instrumental versions of some of the album's songs performed by a mystery band called the Diff'rent Strokes (Pulp's Jarvis Cocker was rumored to be a member) to 2001 NME Carling Awards for Best New Act, Band of the Year, and Album of the Year. The band toured extensively throughout 2002, including a series of dates that summer in New York and Detroit with the White Stripes, summer festivals at Reading and Leeds, and a string of gigs supporting Weezer, some of which were canceled due to a leg injury Casablancas suffered. During these shows, their fall tour, and their dates opening for the Rolling Stones, the Strokes debuted some new songs, including "Meet Me in the Bathroom," "You Talk Way Too Much," and "The Way It Is."
By March 2003, the band was ready to start recording its new album, but instead of working with Is This It producer Gordon Raphael as previously reported, the Strokes began recording with Nigel Godrich of Radiohead and Beck fame. That May, however, the Strokes' sessions with Godrich came to an end, and they returned to Raphael to finish the album. The single 12:51 introduced the more meticulous, new wave-inspired sound of Room on Fire, which arrived in fall 2003. Just before the album's release, the Strokes hit the road once again, taking Kings of Leon with them. Early in 2006, they returned with the even poppier and more polished First Impressions of Earth.
The band took a hiatus after the tour for that album, with each member working on other projects. Albert Hammond, Jr. was the first to venture into the solo fray with Yours to Keep, which was released in late 2006 in the U.K. and in early 2007 in the U.S.; he followed it with 2008's Como Te Llama? Fabrizio Moretti played with the indie pop band Little Joy, whose self-titled album arrived in late 2008. Nikolai Fraiture embarked on the folky solo project Nickel Eye, and released the debut Time of the Assassins in early 2009. Although the Strokes headed back into the studio that same year, progress was slow as Julian Casablancas briefly shifted his attention to a solo album, Phrazes for the Young, which arrived that fall. After playing a headlining slot at Lollapalooza in 2010, the Strokes returned to the studio with renewed focus, eventually emerging with 2011's Angles.
When the Strokes returned from their lengthy post-First Impressions of Earth hiatus with Angles, they’d been apart almost as long as they’d been together. While they were gone, they cast a long shadow: upstarts like the Postelles and Neon Trees borrowed more than a few pages from their stylebook, and even established acts like Phoenix used the band’s strummy guitar pop for their own devices. During that time, the members of the Strokes pursued side projects that were more or less engaging, but it felt like the band still had unfinished business; though First Impressions was ambitious, it didn’t feel like a final statement. For that matter, neither does Angles, which arrived just a few months shy of their classic debut Is This It's tenth anniversary. Clocking in at a svelte 34 minutes, it’s as short as the band’s early albums, but Angles is a different beast. Somehow, the Strokes sound more retro here than they did before, with slick production coating everything in a new wave sheen. More worryingly, and perhaps inevitably, the group comes across more like a well-oiled machine than the gang they felt like on every other album. Fabrizio Moretti's drums are more mechanically precise than ever, and Julian Casablancas' voice is walled off in distortion that stands in sharp contrast to his pristine surroundings. This distance allows Nick Valensi to be Angles' star, turning in witty responses to Casablancas' vocals and dazzling solos like the one that graces “Two Kinds of Happiness”' mix of power pop and post-punk. But even if the Strokes don’t sound as passionate as they did before, they deliver a few quintessential moments. “Under Cover of Darkness” is an über-Strokes song, with tumbling verses that borrow “Last Night”'s melody and soaring, secretly earnest choruses; meanwhile, “Machu Picchu”'s reggae-fied strut harks back to Room on Fire. They sound even better -- and less studied -- on “Taken for a Fool,” which, with lines like “Monday, Tuesday is my weekend,” rivals their earlier songs for quotability, and on “Gratisfaction,” which plays like the perfect cross between Nick Lowe's “And So It Goes” and everything Billy Joel recorded from the late ‘70s to the early ‘80s. When they venture from this territory, the results are mixed, ranging from the sweet synth pop of “Games” and “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight” to less successful, insular experiments like “Call Me Back” and “You’re So Right.” Ultimately, Angles' best moments are reassuring rather than exciting, offering proof that the Strokes can still make an album together, and hope that it'll come more naturally to them next time.
1 Machu Picchu Strokes 3:32
2 Under Cover of Darkness Strokes 3:57
3 Two Kinds of Happiness Strokes 3:43
4 You're so Right Strokes 2:33
5 Taken for a Fool Strokes 3:24
6 Games Strokes 3:53
7 Call Me Back Strokes 3:03
8 Gratisfaction Strokes 2:59
9 Metabolism Strokes 3:04
10 Life Is Simple in the Moonlight Strokes 4:15