The Strokes have seen it all since the release of’s Is This It all the way back in 2001: they’ve been the coolest band in the world, picked up a plethora of awards and have experienced both critical and commercial acclaim. But Julian Casablancas & co. weathered a long-running wave of expectancy in the run up to the release of their previous effort – 2011’s Angles. That, their fourth album, was expected to be a moment to rejoice in as the band returned to the form that some had begun to question after 2006’s First Impressions Of Earth though instead, the optimism and anticipation were, alas, greeted with a by and large lukewarm, and with that somewhat anti-climatic album. Putting out a record which had a couple of great tracks, but was ultimately flawed as a cohesive entity called for a recovery of sorts. Could the world’s favourite indie heroes really have fallen short of their usually skyscraping standards? Well, the answer will surely lie in Comedown Machine – the fifth album from the esteemed NYC band.
With the imminent release coming to light via a rather sudden series of studio updates, the first taste of Comedown Machine surfaced in January with One Way Trigger and, perhaps unsurprisingly, seemed to bemuse long-time Strokes fans. Falsetto? Take On Me? What exactly was going on..? But just as the mildly experimental song suggested that The Strokes weren’t going to chew up and spit out the same recycled album again, the first single proper – All The Time – emerged, and exploited a considerably more traditional approach. Its typically simple rhythm section allows Albert Hammond, Jr. and Nick Valensi to together venture back out into their trademark comfort zone of dirty guitars and intertwining riffs, Casablancas slurring his well-known repetitive, distorted vocal over the mix all the while to amass to a track that is so classically Strokes-sounding that it could fit seamlessly into any of their previous studio efforts.
But amongst all the welcome positives and subtle developments in sound lie the same old problems: Comedown Machine, much like Angles and indeed First Impressions Of Earth, has only a handful of solid songs. Opening track Tap Out, for instance, is further evidence of The Strokes exploring the ’80s-tinged nuances that were scattered throughout Angles. Its jittery guitars make for an interesting concoction when blended with Casablancas’ layered, high-pitched vocal. And the mid-tempo delicacy of ’80s Comedown Machine is appealing in its near-lazy delivery. But whilst The Strokes sporadically prosper, boy do they fail elsewhere: the brash fashion of 50/50 feels like nothing more than a hastily pieced together punk-rock demo, while the nondescript Slow Animals is extinct before you even notice its existence. Partners in Crime is the real low, however, proving to be a collection of utter strangeness even when set against the thoroughly bewildering closing track Call It Fate, Call It Karma which almost appears to warmly embrace an off-putting novelty feel.
And so listening to Comedown Machine induces serious worry that The Strokes are running out steam. Although not all bad, this record just doesn’t possess the sorts of songs to have redeemed them in the past. There is no Juicebox; no Under Cover of Darkness, but instead a sub-standard effort from a band that continues to slither down the slope.
Released: March 25th, 2013 [RCA]