By Mike Collett-White
LONDON, March 18, (Reuters Life!) - The Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi called making the band's new album "Angles" "just awful," but despite a fractious recording process most critics seem pleased the New York rockers are finally back.
The record has been five years in the making, an absence which has heightened anticipation in the music press and heaped pressure on a band still living in the shadow of its acclaimed debut album, 2001's "Is This It."
But the U.S. band appears to have lost none of its fans. The Strokes were given a rapturous welcome by an estimated 20,000 audience at a free concert at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas on Thursday, when they also previewed a couple of tracks from the new album.
"Is This It" was followed by "Room On Fire" (2003) and "First Impressions of Earth" (2006), after which four of the five group members went on to pursue other musical ventures including solo albums and another band.
The quintet reconvened in early 2009, began recording new material with a producer, but then scrapped the bulk of that work when they decided to make the record on their own.
That, combined with a new creative approach meaning all members of the band contributed to writing the tracks, significantly slowed the process, as did lead singer Julian Casablancas' decision to record his vocals remotely.
"When I'm there, people might wait for me to say something," he was quoted as saying on music website Pitchfork.com. "I think it took me being a little mute to force the initiative," added Casablancas, traditionally the band's chief songwriter.
For Valensi, the process was a painful one.
"I won't do the next album we make like this," he told the same website. "No way. It was awful -- just awful."
REVIEWS MOSTLY POSITIVE
Early reviews appeared this week ahead of the U.S. release on Sony Music's RCA label on March 22, and The Strokes can breathe easy. Barring a handful of harsh assessments, critics were generally impressed with "Angles."
On its website, Metacritic.com gave an aggregate rating of 75 out of 100 based on 11 reviews, ranging from 40 in Britain's Guardian newspaper to 90 on BBC Music.
The influential Rolling Stone magazine gave the group four stars out of five and David Fricke wrote in his review:
"With its sudden-U-turn songwriting and curt execution, 'Angles' is the best album that (The Strokes) have made since 2001's 'Is This It', the cannonball that inaugurated the modern-garage era."
At the other end of the spectrum, Alexis Petridis of the Guardian awarded "Angles" two stars out of five.
"Plenty of great records have been made in an atmosphere of terrible acrimony," he said. "But 'Angles' just sounds like an album made by people who really didn't want to make an album."
Whatever anyone thinks of "Angles", the chances appear good that The Strokes' fifth album will take significantly less than five years to produce.
"I feel like we have a better album in us, and it's going to come out soon," said Valensi.
Even the more circumspect Casablancas added: "I definitely think there will be a fifth Strokes album. I mean, I hope so." (Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Jill Serjeant)