Last month The Strokes released their fifth studio album, Comedown Machine, but no matter how we looked at it or how many times we played it, we couldn’t shake the feeling of disappointment. There are small bursts of greatness interwoven throughout the album, but as a whole it’s underwhelming without a single track coming close to the brilliance of Last Night, Is This It, New York City Cops, Someday, The Modern Age, 12:51, Reptilia, Meet Me in the Bedroom, Electricityscape, Fear of Sleep or even 2011’s Under Cover of Darkness.
Without a single full tilt track on the album you’re left with a group of art rock flops that just don’t stack up. There’s a major change of direction musically and vocally on Comedown Machine, with a higher pitch for Julian Casablancas and a tendency for week electronica in favour of their former alt rock shimmering might.
It’s a sad reality that a lot of the indie rock and roll brilliance of the early noughties has been lost in a swamp of changing outlooks. The Killers fell first moving swiftly away from the cool impact of Hot Fuss and more recently Kings of Leon transformed themselves from the long haired rock thriller that they were into the commercialised boy band pin ups that they’ve become (although, in all fairness it has guaranteed them supermodel hotties, so you can’t entirely blame them).
The Strokes were our last hope, but with a move to conceptual 80s pop re-imagining and random vocalisation on Comedown Machine they’ve finally turned their back on what they used to be enough for it to hit home.
The new album isn’t all bad as such, it’s just that it does little to grab you and pull you in. Tap Out starts sounding like it might do something interesting, but it backs down almost instantly with vocals pitched out of character, sounding more like eighties pop than modern day rock. All The Time is about as close as the album gets to the much loved Strokes style. It’s got good vocals, pace and rhythm, making it one of a couple of tracks that are hard to fault.
However, One Way Trigger struggles and annoys with more high pitch vocals and frustrating synth melodies. Welcome To Japan goes for a funked up sound that doesn’t work much better despite a very cool chorus. 80s Comedown Machine does a lot to indicate the direction The Strokes went for with their latest album, but does more to explain why it hasn’t worked out so well. The track is experimental, arty pop with a shlomo pace that would put you to sleep if it wasn’t for the fact that it jars like a crackling radio signal. The best part of the track is the short snap of feedback right at the end.
The harder rock of 50/50 is easier to get into, but it doesn’t exactly sound much like a Strokes track and feels like it tries a bit too hard. Slow Animals is a low ebb, however, you’ve got to love the guitar skill on Partners In Crime, but it’s brought down by unnecessarily high pitched vocals in the verse.
Chances is just plain bad, and while Happy Ending has some smart synth melodies and guitar, it’s also a bit dull in parts and lacks the great vocals it needed. However, Call It Fate, Call It Karma closes out the album leaving you with a taste of the band doing something different, but doing it well, which is a blessing at this stage.
Comedown Machine isn’t a great reintroduction to The Strokes, which is a shame considering the level of anticipation around their initial comeback with Angles. Hopefully, this will just be their Dirty Work and they’ll be back stronger than ever in the not too distant future.
The Strokes Comedown Machine review: 2.4/5