The Strokes have a habit of keeping us all guessing what they’ll do next. After Is This It? everyone expected a natural progression in Room On Fire—but instead they gave us a completely different beast. No one really ever expected a follow up to First Impressions Of Earth after such a long time and such public spats—and then they gave us Angles. And after how lacklustre the last album was, no one was expecting anything good to come of Comedown Machine.
And that’s where we were wrong.
Because despite Comedown Machine being a little strange at points—it’s actually a return to some kind of form for The Strokes. No longer does it feel like The Strokes are making albums because they have to and so they hate every minute of it; Comedown Machine sounds like The Strokes genuinely wanted to make the album and, god forbid, actually enjoyed it.
‘Tap Out’ introduces you perfectly to this new sound of The Strokes. The different guitars wrap around one another to create something that is both effortlessly catchy and keeps you listening throughout. The higher and lighter vocal from Julian Casablancas takes a little getting used to; but to see a contrast in his vocal tone between verses and choruses actually winds up being pleasant opposed to annoying. Lead single ‘One Way Trigger’ has been likened to A-ha many times over which truthfully it does. However once you get your head around this strange concept, it’s infectiously upbeat, catchy and danceable—with elements of both classic Strokes and new Strokes co-existing.
‘Happy Endings’ also does the unionisation of the different Strokes sounds. It merges together distinctly 80’s synths and keys with a guitar that is very recognisably 00’s prime- Strokes. It is during the chorus where it most comes to life, with the guitar overwhelming and dominating the affair. There is an unfortunate quieter lull in the middle of the song, which I find jars the flow a little given how energetic the rest of the track is.
My personal favourite off the album comes in the shape of the catchy, jaunty ‘Welcome To Japan’. The steady bass line acts as the driving force with the jagged electric guitar cutting across and creating the energy and frenzy that the track is loaded with. Vocally, it’s far more towards the comfortable range of Julian’s vocal register—deeper and crooning—with the unforgettable line “what kind of arsehole drives a Lotus?”
It is the latter half of the album where things start to fall down—and the tracks become far more of a take it or leave it affair. ‘Chances’ is somewhat of an airy number, with floating, cascading synths dominating proceedings and making the guitars sound out of place. Casablancas takes a similar restrained, drifting approach to the vocals which instead of being mellow and relaxing, just comes out grating. Closing track ‘Call It Fate, Call It Karma’ sounds like the last song at an 80’s disco when the house lights are on and the DJ is trying to get everyone to leave. It just falls flat on every level—feeling more like it was added to make-up run-time than actually serving any real purpose.
Overall Comedown Machine is definitely not the best that The Strokes have offered us…
But it’s certainly not their worst either.