The Strokes: Comedown Machine (RCA Records)
26th March 2013
Managing to release a near perfect debut album, The Strokes exploded onto the music scene with ‘Is This It’ in 2001 and with it came great expectations. Since then, however, the band have not been quite as fortunate – releasing albums that never really lived up to the first, inter-band feuds which led to solo releases and a long hiatus. Seemingly now on good terms again, The Strokes have recorded their forthcoming fifth album ‘Comedown Machine’, the reception of which so far has been mixed, and is causing somewhat of a ruckus.
The album opens with ‘Tap Out’, of which the muted, rhythmic melody of guitar and synth immediately brings to mind soundtracks to 80’s 16-bit games like ‘Shinobi’. Julian Casablancas then chimes in with his relaxed falsetto, which suits the tight, mellow groove really well. This song encompasses and sets the tone for a good chunk of the rest of the album. Next up, lastest single ‘All The Time’, however, is one that doesn’t fit this mould. More of a familiar territory to Strokes fans, this is a punchy display of loud, clashing instruments accompanied by Casablancas’ classic dispassionate, distorted vocals.
Free download ‘One Way Trigger’ taps back into the bands new 80‘s synthy pop sound. As a first impression for the album, it is obvious why it had a mixed reception back in January. A quick tempo and funky electro beat joined by Casablancas’ high pitched, feminine wails is enough to confuse even the newest of Strokes fans. Yet, when listened to within ‘Comedown Machine’ rather than a standalone track, it begins to make more sense.
Debatably the best song on the album, ‘Welcome To Japan’ is full of charisma and humor, and gives off an infectious desire to have a little boogie of your own. Nikolai Fraiture’s powerful bass is reminiscent of classic Strokes of the past, as are Nick Valensi’s guitar licks on later track, ‘Happy Endings’.
Again I find myself remembering the loss of a life during numerous games on my Atari, as the almost-title track, ’80’s Comedown Machine’ begins. The low-key, softened loops and airy vocal coda make for a wonderfully depressing and dreamy number. Tempo and pitch are brought right back up again for the electrifying ‘50/50’. This short burst of bloodthirtsy garage rock sees Casablancas sneer with a fierceness not heard since the early days. This is more like the original Strokes than anything else you will hear on the record – and it’s good. Very good.
‘Slow Animals’ once again enforces the unpredictable character of the album. Compelling melody and vocal changes slowly build up to a bittersweet chorus. The group laughter at the end of the track is seemingly a reminder of the friendship that has been rebuilt between the band.
Final track of the album, ‘Call It Fate, Call It Karma’ is, without a doubt, the strangest song The Strokes have ever penned. Covering a range of Cuban rhythm, slow piano, jazz guitar and breezy, high-pitched vocal melodies, it creates a vibrant daydream effect of life in the 1940’s. With its eerie and nostalgic tones, you can image the stage curtains closing slowly on the fading of this track.
Some believe that The Strokes have found a new winning formula with ‘Comedown Machine’. Others think it’s a load of codswallop that will lead to the definitive end of the band. I, personally, am still a bit on the fence. For me, the only problem with this album is the uncertainty that emanates from it. The identity crisis the quintet seem to be having needs to be sorted out – had the album been made up entirely of 80’s pop at least we could settle with the fact that this is a definite new direction, and we could begin getting used to it. However, the little reminders of how good The Strokes are at being, well, The Strokes adds some confusion and leaves you wanting to revisit ‘Is This It’ rather than listening to the latest recordings. Regardless off this, ‘Comedown Machine’ is certainly worth a listen and even if, like me, you’re a bit unsure at first, I can (almost) guarantee you will warm to it after a few listens.