"What kind of asshole drives a Lotus?/I didn't know that God was loaded" Strokes front man Julian Casablancas sings on 'Welcome to Japan', one of the few occasions where his signature muffled, squashed vocal is clear enough to understand. This cheeky and defiant up-tempo tune represents a clear and unapologetic intention to have fun. With their fifth studio album, the band has presented something of a departure with a collection of punchy 80's influenced rock/pop songs. Over the years, the band have faced media fuelled rivalries with the likes of the White Stripes, rumours of internal squabbling and mixed reviews since their 2001 seminal debut 'Is This It'. Although this album makes it difficult to believe that at heart The Strokes are still an indie rock band, their lo-fi guitar based roots have not been entirely abandoned. 'Happy Endings' just might be taken from the surplus material written for the last album 'Angels', which would eventually inspire the guys to head back into the studio. The dirty, abrasive guitar riffs and static of '50/50' is familiar territory. Although, not really a stand out, it contains solos that remind us that they can still play most rock bands under the table.
Still, it is the 80's pop influence that underpins the sound of this project. The fast paced guitar intro of opener 'Tap Out' would not be out of place on a Michael Jackson track circa 'Thriller'. With a sing-a-long hook that sounds like it could have been used for the closing credits for a John Hughes movie, its cheesiness becomes more endearing with every listen. The bouncy synths of 'One Way Trigger' brings to mind A-Ha's 'Take On me', which is unexpected and slightly strange. The concept of placing A-Ha in the same sentence as The Strokes seems about as likely as Justin Bieber singing death metal, but musical inspiration never seizes to surprise. The electronic hand claps of '80's Comedown Machine' sounds as though it could have been lifted directly from Ultravox's 'Vienna', which highlights the album's major flaw, there are brief moments when the band walks the fine line between paying homage and sounding void of new ideas.
The fact that The Strokes have shifted gears from the three chords, big drummed indie rock of their beginnings is bound to divide long time fans. However if music should at its best move, entertain or uplift the listener, this album works for that reason alone. This is a sharp and concise record which might take time to be digested by existing fans but just might see the band gain a few new ones.
Review by Karen Lawler