The Strokes’ upcoming album, Angles, will be their first in five years, and it’s already getting buzz as a welcome and potentially glorious “return to form.” So does the lead single, “Under Cover of Darkness,” which will be available around February 9, back that up? Is it a grand trip back to everything people first liked about the band?
A little bit, actually, but maybe not in the way you’d think! This is a group whose original charm was simplicity (and, umm, early aughts NYC chic): The Strokes could chug through bare-bones New Wave with great panache, and that’ll always seem like the “form” to which they’re expected to return. For a while, they seemed to struggle to find a good way to develop, or do more ambitious or complicated things; every time they tried, listeners got skeptical, sort of the way nobody ever likes new characters past the third season of a TV show. Bring back the simple old thing we liked! But it’s been nearly a decade since the band’s first album; people who loved them in high school are now adults with bands of their own. Hell, there are even glossy early Strokes soundalike pop hits now. Not much point in going back to basics, right?
So what’s pretty cool about “Under Cover of Darkness” is that it’s both “complicated” and totally simple, playful, and loose. Most of it boogies and skips sunnily along, as if someone might start whistling at any moment — exactly the kind of shaggy, careless appeal the band’s always been best at. (It’ll sound great on an album people will be listening to in spring.) It’s also got a bunch of funny dueling guitar leads, big changes, thought-out structures, and that wonderful trick where what you think is a decent chorus is just the lead-in to a great one — but in this case, instead of sounding like the band is trying too hard, it sounds like they’re just having fun. (One of the guitar bends in the intro seems intentionally, heroically goofy; same with a hilarious falsetto chirp later on.) They’ve finally found a way to try interesting things and still seem rakish, sly, and unconcerned about it.
It sounds good: If the rest of the album turns out to feel this loose and lively, I’ll probably dig it. I’m not sure I’d call it a “return to form,” though. The low-level excitement over this new album isn’t just about what the Strokes sound like — they always pretty much sound like, you know, the Strokes. Some of it’s surely just that time has passed and people have had a chance to miss, value, or get nostalgic about things like super-insouciant guitar-playing and the slur of Julian Casablancas’s voice. And this song sounds nostalgic for that stuff, too.