Review: The Strokes – Comedown Machine
Published on March 30th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
It’s a relatively low-key fanfare that’s granted to a new album by The Strokes these days, at least in terms of a band for whom anticipation and expectation levels had reached fever pitch before they’d even so much as switched an amp on. Gradually diminishing returns posted in the wake of their influential 2001 debut Is This It may have brought them down a few notches in eminence, but they still know how to knock out a belting pop song when they’re not tending to their confounding quest to sound like every single band from the ’80s at one point or another, as well as a fair few from the early ’90s.
In a sense, Comedown Machine is like “Machu Pichu”, the opening track of 2011’s Angles, extrapolated into a whole album: that is to say there are plenty of plinky retro synths, chugs of muted disco guitar and whatnot, but when their more natural inclinations shine through the pervading artifice there are still joys to be had. “Partners in Crime” in particular is excellent, with its wibbly guitar riffery and lively melody, while the gorgeous chorus of “Tap Out” makes up for the fact that its verse sounds really rather like a cross between New Order’s “True Faith” and XTC’s “Runaways”.
Such derivation/homage is a major factor in the undoing of Comedown Machine: “Welcome to Japan” applies dashes of Blur to its jittery Talking Heads-i-ness, while single “One Way Trigger” sounds sufficiently like A-ha’s “Take on Me” as to be impossible to take seriously. On the reconcilably Strokes-y “All the Time” and “50/50”, it could even be argued that they’re mining their own oeuvre, especially since the latter sounds as if it could have featured on the band’s second album Room on Fire.
Elsewhere, however, the monged sort of comedown splendour of “’80s Comedown Machine” hits the mark, as does oddball closer “Call It Fate, Call It Karma”, which successfully manages to sound as if it was recorded forty or fifty years ago by a different artist altogether. It’s also got some strange, cat-like wailing on it, representing the kind of lateral thinking that might have served the album well had it been more indulged, especially since it’s so hard to make out what Julian Casablancas is singing much of the time.
One track (“Slow Animals”) ends with studio laughter, a snapshot perhaps of a relaxed atmosphere in which The Strokes are no longer charged with leading a generation out of whatever musical doldrums they perceive around them. The love of the game is clearly still there – if only they could shake off the urge to spend half the time faithfully recreating the sounds of their youth, they might turn in another great album someday.
Rocksucker says: Three Quails out of Five!
Comedown Machine is out now on Rough Trade. For more information, please click here to visit The Strokes’ official website.