Strokes Botch Comeback, Bested by R.E.M., Elbow: Mark Beech

The cover of "Angles" by The Strokes. The CD is the band's first collection since "First Impressions of Earth" in 2006. Source: RCA via Bloomberg

The Strokes took five years to record just 35 minutes of music.

The band’s fourth album, “Angles,” isn’t worth the wait. The opener “Machu Picchu” ditches the group’s trademark guitar rock for reggae. It’s neither amusing like Vampire Weekend nor powerful like the Clash and Led Zeppelin’s attempts at the genre. It’s just bad.

Things get a little better and occasionally very good, with “Life Is Simple in the Moonlight” and “Two Kinds of Happiness.” Still, that’s only two tracks and too often the Strokes parody themselves with mediocre songs such as the single “Under Cover of Darkness.”

This album bumps along as much as its predecessor from 2006 and isn’t a patch on the debut “Is This It.” We witness a slow career decline from Manhattan cool, rave reviews, model girlfriends and drug rehab to this uneven piece of product.

Rating: **.

While some of the Strokes have expressed dissatisfaction with the finished album, R.E.M. has been talking up its 15th studio release, “Collapse Into Now.”

Patti Smith shows up on the last track “Blue.” “Mine Smell Like Honey” has Peter Buck’s guitars multitracked over a classic R.E.M. chorus.

It’s just better than its rushed predecessor “Accelerate,” though no “Automatic for the People” or “Murmur.”

Rating: ***.

Lucinda Williams’s “Blessed” is a likeable CD of mature reflection that moves further away from the songwriter’s country roots. “Kiss Like Your Kiss” is a romantic smooch while “Seeing Black” is aided by a vicious guitar solo from Elvis Costello.

Rating: ***.

Elbow’s “Build a Rocket Boys!” is the U.K. band’s best yet, surpassing the Mercury-winning “The Seldom Seen Kid.” Tracks like “Lippy Kids” build from singer Guy Garvey’s quiet observation into stadium-filling anthems.

Rating: ****.

Noah & the Whale’s “Last Night on Earth” is a lot more joyful than the group’s previous work, which focused on heartache and breakup. The doom-laden folk is replaced by shiny pop on the single “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.”

Rating: ***.

Beady Eye’s “Different Gear, Still Speeding” presents the remnants of Oasis with singer Liam Gallagher after he split with his brother Noel, the main songwriter in the former act.

“Four Letter Word” sounds a lot like Oasis, with Liam declaring “nothing ever lasts forever.” He spends too much time in John Lennon imitation mode, with one song called “Beatles and Stones.” “The Roller” sounds uncannily like Lennon’s “Instant Karma,” with a dumbed-down lyric.

Rating: *.

Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx’s “We’re New Here” is worth hearing. Street poet Scott-Heron returned last year, after fighting drug addiction, with “I’m New Here,” his first studio collection in 13 years. The songs have been remixed by Jamie Smith of U.K. band the xx and given a compelling 2011 sheen. “I’ll Take Care of U” delivers promises in a wrecked-throat voice paired with disjointed rave guitar.

Rating: *****.

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Exceptional
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

The Strokes CD was released yesterday on RCA in the U.S. The Noah & the Whale release on Mercury is out on April 5. Elbow’s album is on Fiction/Polydor and available in U.S. stores on April 12. R.E.M. is on Warner Bros.; Williams on Mercury/ Lost Highway; Beady Eye on Beady Eye/ Dangerbird and Scott-Heron on XL Records.

Albums are available from about $9.99 in the U.S, or 7.99 pounds in the U.K. Some of the titles are also available in special editions with extra tracks or special packaging. Download fees vary across services.

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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