Album Review: The Strokes return with new, albeit lackluster, material

The Strokes - Angles (2011) | ★★☆☆☆

Santa Claus can definitely sympathize with The Strokes. He knows better than anyone the main problem with heightened anticipation: the higher the expectations, the more likely you are to be disappointed with the outcome.

Five years ago, The Strokes decided to take a break from making music in order to escape the inevitable claustrophobia that is bound to ensue after so quickly hurtling to fame. Fans of the alleged saviors of modern rock were devastated.

Many shameless attempts were made during the band's hiatus to capture the essence of the too-cool-to-care angst signature of the band. The Artic Monkeys tried to be the British Strokes and Kings of Leon hoped to be the contrived southern equivalent, but no efforts truly challenged frontman Julian Casablancas and company. Now it is finally Christmas morning, and nobody seems very happy with their presents – not even the band members themselves.

Despite taking considerable time off to pursue their own interests – solo projects, having kids and going to rehab – the first efforts to record a fourth album together wound up getting scrapped and The Strokes finally decided it was time to take a new approach to things. Namely, this meant letting the four members who don't share the same initials as Jesus Christ have more artistic control over the band's sound. The success was varied.

For the most part, Angles is a testimony to the merits of musical autocracy. The awkward amalgamation of songs that are as unexpectedly diverse as they are dissatisfying is audible proof that sometimes even an irreverent and arrogant leader is better than none.

Perhaps The Strokes deserve a bit more credit, however, for venturing out of their comfort zone in "Two Kinds of Happiness," which veers dangerously close to Tom Petty's backyard. Maybe they should be congratulated for turning to the tropical rhythms of a Jamaican beach party on "Games" and the opening track "Machu Picchu" instead of always returning to the grungy depths of a New York City bar for inspiration.

But there's a reason that the best songs, like the phenomenal lead single "Under the Cover of Darkness" and "Taken for a Fool" are also the most familiar sounding. Sometimes a band should just stick to doing what it does best.

While it appears that all the former darlings of the 21st century's alternative rock scene have grown apart (R.I.P. White Stripes), there are other ways to satisfy your cravings. Just turn the clock back a few decades to the days before Nick Valensi picked up a guitar or Fabrizio Moretti ever touched a drum set, when Lou Reed and Television were the undisputed gods of underground rock ‘n' roll, and you'll get a taste of what The Strokes were aiming for.