5:20 p.m., Saturday, May 7
In July 2001, Virgin Records released the seventh entry in its Now That's What I Call Music series. The compilation featured 10 guitar-less girl and boy bands or pre-tween-pop singers at the peak of pop madness and knuckle-dragging Neanderthals ushering in the dawn of nu-metal. At the same time, New York's The Strokes released the debut album Is This It, a powerful wake-up call of raw rock 'n' roll. Taking cues from Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, post-punk and forgotten Nuggets gems, the Strokes dismissed "retro" contemporaries and forced a sea change in pop music. Is This It wasn't a question. It just was it — a decade-defining release.
For 2011's Angles, the band's fourth LP and first release since 2006's First Impressions of Earth, the band regrouped after a more than two-year hiatus, during which its members launched or revisited various solo efforts. Singer and principal songwriter Julian Casablancas released his acclaimed new wave-dense Phrazes For the Young in 2009; guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. dropped two solo LPs; drummer Fabrizio Moretti formed Little Joy; and bassist Nikolai Fraiture released an album under Nickle Eye, an earnest Kinks- and Neil Young-influenced folk outfit.
Band members also hit their thirties — marriages, divorces, children, rehab. Fraiture says the Strokes of 2011 is a virtually different band.
"We all kind of grew up and have different things going on in our lives, so I think that was one part of the stalling of getting back together," Fraiture says. "Now we're finally revisiting ourselves as new people, as a new band, and the music. ... We didn't want to redo what we're doing until now and rehash the same thing." (The album's opening line — on the snotty porn-funk number "Machu Picchu" — Casablancas sneers, "Putting your patience to the test.")
Angles features familiar sounding low-fi versions of the single "Under Cover of Darkness," and "Gratisfaction" wouldn't sound out of place on Is This It or the future-rock of Room On Fire. But it also hits on the strange with its cocksure glam-rock guitars and the stuttering pop operatics of "Metabolism" and the Fraiture-penned "You're So Right."
"I was hoping to bring back a rock song," Fraiture says, with a laugh. "... I'm glad I can try a bunch of different things and I can also have the side project. ... I can get out all the things I need to get out in certain areas and not have to boggle down people with them."
Angles is The Strokes at its most precise — and sober. There are the chugging, down-stroke slaps from dueling guitarists Hammond and Valensi, Fraiture's precision-controlled, velvet-hammer bass lines, and Casablancas's boozy (now melodic) growl.
"Once we sent him the songs and he sang on them, I remember that being the pivotal point for me where I knew everyone was really serious about it," Fraiture says. "It's like dominoes. Once somebody gets excited, someone else gets excited, and it's kind of contagious, until it comes kind of undeniable."