Mar 22, 2013 Issue #45 - Winter 2013 - Phoenix
Fair or not, Is This It and Room on Fire, The Strokes' one-two punch from the first few years of the '00s, loom heavy over all of their subsequent releases. And for good reason—those albums remain immensely listenable and enjoyable, the sheer pop prowess and technical chops belied by how casual they felt. With every record since then—basically, every record where they've tried to demonstrate something resembling artistic growth-they've been left scrambling.
Sadly, their fifth and newest effort, Comedown Machine, is no different. While it introduces some interesting new ideas to The Strokes' repertoire, there are more clunkers here than anything resembling the dizzy highs of Is This It. It's not as obviously a band-in-transition album as Angles was, but it's also just not very good.
Julian Casablancas has apparently begun to experiment with a falsetto on this album, which is occasionally used to good effect. "One Way Trigger" features a spiky synth and guitar line that backs up the new Casablancas voice well, and sounds the most Strokes-ish of any of the new songs. Opener "Tap Out," on the other hand, sounds like the band found some old Talking Heads records but doesn't quite have the chops to make the songs swing, which makes the new vocal style sound forced.
For a band known best for their sneering rock songs, it might be surprising that that the best track on Comedown Machine is a ballad, the sort-of title song "80's Comedown Machine." A string quartet and wonderful guitar line provide a great backdrop for Casablancas' downcast singing, and the whole thing sounds like it's tailor-made for Sofia Coppola's next film.
Unfortunately, "50/50" sounds like a cast-off from the band's heyday, though the guitar and drum work are strong. "Partners in Crime" ranks with the band's worst, an attempt at some kind of modern rockabilly... or something. And "Chances" sounds like a bad Killers song.
Overall, it might not be fair for The Strokes to have to live under the shadow of their own previous successes. But when you know a band can be that good, it's frustrating to hear the same band put out an album this forgettable. (www.thestrokes.com)
Author rating: 4/10
Average reader rating: 8/10