“It’s not you it’s me,” is what you tell someone when either you legitimately have problems of your own you can’t work out together or when you’re BS’ing to spare someone’s feelings. Somewhere in the middle lies a mixture of the two and that unfortunately is where my opinion of The Strokes’ fifth LP, ‘Comedown Machine,’ lies.
Anyone who’s familiar with my reviews on this site knows that many albums lately have been growers, and giving them the proper chance to evolve in your ears is important. That’s part of the reason why this review arrives so much after its debut—for the first 5-10 listens, nothing sank in fully, but after assuring myself that perhaps with a few more listens it would click into place and afterwards its subtle beauty could be understood and then explained to you, dear readers. But it just hasn’t happened yet. It breaks my heart to say so, because this comes from an avid Strokes fan.
If you listened to lead singer Julian Casablacas’ solo album ‘11th Dimension,’ then the direction of the Strokes’ 2011 comeback LP, ‘Angles,’ wasn’t a complete surprise. The man has a penchant for electronics and synths that recall the 80s. Apparently so does the rest of the band, since this was the first album from the New York group that was a true collaboration. While some cried foul at its strange twists and all-around 80s-influenced sound save for a few classic Strokes-sounding songs (“Under Cover of Darkness”), this music fan thought it was fantastic and one of the best albums of the year. It showed the band pushing into new territory while still more or less sounding like themselves. This album tries to continue in that vein, but with middling results.
The Strokes’ “All The Time”
Album opener “Tap Out” locks into a groove for most of the song that wouldn’t be too far removed from a Gloria Estefan beat. Julian doesn’t sound hung over either, instead using falsetto for a majority of the song. It’s not bad, but doesn’t bust the doors down either. Second single “All The Time” arrives next and is one of the few classic Strokes grooves on this album. It’s a little by-the-numbers for them but it’s still a fun, guitar-driven song reminiscent of ‘Room on Fire’ era tracks. “One Way Trigger” happens next and while this song has grown on me considerably, to be honest, the first listen had me checking the credits to see who the guest female vocalist was, which is weird. Bravo for trying new things, but this new falsetto isn’t something he should pursue to a great extent.
When the next track “Welcome To Japan” kicks in you realize the album has settled into a mid-tempo pace and is content to stay there. The song is actually pretty fun, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Then all the audio allusions to the bygone decade are acknowledged in the sleepy “80’s Comedown Machine,” which is content to stay in a hazy bubble for its entire five minute length. At the halfway point the Strokes throw out the meanest and greatest track of the album, “50/50,” which sounds like a mix between Velvet Underground and The Stooges. It’s the only track to match the propulsive pace of classic songs like “Last Nite” or “Juicebox.”
One of the better mid-tempo tracks, “Slow Animals” follows, but once you hear the sheer fun of “Partners In Crime” you might be tempted to skip it in the future. This is the other really great song on this record, incorporating the quirky sounds of their latter-day work with the guitars of their early work and one of the most satisfying bridges of their career, it’s a can’t miss track. “Chances” is one of their better ballads with reverberating synths and one of the less painful uses of falsetto on the record.
“Happy Ending” exists in the mid-tempo realm the majority of the album does yet manages to rise above many of the other tracks with a certain hip-shaking element lacking in its peers. It would have been a great finale to the album, ending on a more upbeat note like their other records. But perhaps to buck against that trend they include “Call It Fate, Call It Karma,” which exists in this sepia-toned space outside of time, played from an old turntable. Its vibe exists in a nether realm of Hawaii hotel lobbies and Billie Holiday. Many might dismiss it for its kitschy sound, but personally it strikes just the right tone of weird.
The Strokes’ “One Way Trigger”
This is definitely one of those rare albums where the second half is more rewarding than the first. It’s all personal taste; perhaps you’ll find different tracks that tickle your Strokes fancy. One thing’s for certain though: this album is hit or miss. It’s the first time in their career where change doesn’t sound like innovation, but instead like a band grasping at straws to keep themselves interested in the band. If at this point in their career you love The Strokes for their glory days and what they did for music during the abysmal late 90s/early 00s; it makes you a little more forgiving when they put out an album that’s not great, just good. But sometimes, good is good enough.
Written By Jarad Matula
OurVinyl | Senior Writer