Is this it?

The Strokes’ first release in five years still leaves something to be desired.

Andrew Penkalski

The Strokes – âÄòAnglesâÄô

Label: Modular Records

Did The Strokes anticipate the magnitude of âÄúIs This ItâÄù when they were making it? Three albums later, it is beginning to sound like an increasingly important question. The harmonic chemistry between Albert Hammond Jr.âÄôs guitar and Nick Valensi is what made the deceptively simple record pack such a powerful punch at the turn of the millennium. Their jubilant rhythm was not lost amidst the studio polish of âÄúRoom on Fire,âÄù but the soulless tracks of their 2006 release, âÄúFirst Impressions of Earth,âÄù showed Julian CasablancasâÄô fervor as a frontman waning. Were these guys the modern American rock saviors that the salivating media outlets initially guffawed over, or were they just some kids who really knew how to play guitar? Their latest full-length, âÄúAngles,âÄù hints that it is likely the latter.

This may sound like a conversation of expectations, but with a group so lauded as The Strokes, it cannot be ignored. The buzz is part of what shaped their initial mystique back in 2001. Rock âÄônâÄô roll was cool again, and CasablancasâÄô greasy and disheveled appearance carried that. While the group may scoff such notions, it has typified their place in the rock lexicon, and it is a fact that makes âÄúAnglesâÄù âÄî an album touted as a return to form âÄî all the more underwhelming.

The Peruvian guitar strums that kick off album-opener âÄúMachu PicchuâÄù really start to mess with that âÄúreturn to formâÄù mantra from the first chord. The song soon devolves into something more appropriately rambunctious. It may have been a decidedly out-of-left-field aesthetic to begin with. Nothing is cooler than not giving a damn and screwing with people, but the new-wave filter on CasablancasâÄô vocals throughout even the chunkier chords of the track demonstrate that this is not âÄúIs This It.âÄù

Continuing this impression that The Strokes are playing a joke on us, they follow with âÄúUnder Cover of Darkness,âÄù an album standout and one of the few moments on the record that just show them doing what they do best: Casablancas croons, and Valensi and Hammond Jr. just toy off each otherâÄôs strumming patterns.

It gives an impression that fans arenâÄôt the only ones thinking about expectations, and the band sounds best when they seem to be throwing any critical caution to the wind.

The album is not without these hints of greatness. It also is not perpetually dependent on the trackâÄôs proximity to their past work. The Thin Lizzy riff of âÄúGratisfactionâÄù stands out with its layered crowd chants. Once again, the band is benefitting from not overthinking it.

Still, the middle drags. For a half-an-hour album, it feels much longer. The bare synth of âÄúGamesâÄù plays under CasablancasâÄô words, âÄúLiving in an empty world.âÄù It is a fair summation of the center of the record. The mishmash of styles never coagulates into a cohesive scope or identity. The Strokes jumped on to the scene clearing out the dark corners of a macabre city life. Simply put, they were fun. Then the lofty expectations set in. It is too bad people back in 2001 couldnâÄôt have just called them a great rock band. If that were the case, maybe theyâÄôd still be one.

2 out of 4 stars