Remember a time when we all wore baggy fleeces, combat trousers and had our rock music dominated by the likes of either Travis or Limp Bizkit? Dark, dark days they were.
Then enlightenment came direct from NYC as the seminal Is This It dominated the airwaves and charged into the 21st Century, relieving us of the dark ages. The Strokes seemed to be our knights in dirty Converse and ripped jeans.
Since then, our relationship with The Strokes has been more than a little hit or miss. ‘Room On Fire’ was a solid and restless rush of pop-rock while ‘First Impressions of Earth’ held more filler than killer. The world met fourth LP Angles with a somewhat lukewarm response before the band left the UK feeling cold with their numbing lack of atmosphere at Reading and Leeds Festival 2011 where co-headliners Pulp blew them off the stage. The inter-band strains were clearly on show as the boys who were once New York’s finest seemed totally disconnected.
Now, more than 10 years since they first changed the world and gave music a good and proper kick up the rear, will Comedown Machine meet The Strokes’ own high standards or will it simply live up to its name?
Slick , sharp and cutting ‘Off The Wall’ era Michael Jackson funk underlies this devilishly understated little Haim-esque R n’ B rock gem. Wanna Be Startin’ Something? Let’s hope so.
All The Time
You’ve heard this one – it was the good single. It’s got that fresh and loose Laissez- faire charm that made us fall in love with The Strokes in the first place. It’s a welcome return for the classic free and easy six string interplay of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr as that trademark Julian Casablancas drawl playfully muses over The Strokes’ slow and laborious work rate: “All the time in the world is all that’s necessary”. Take all the time you need if you can keep this up.
One Way Trigger
Ah, no they can’t. All of the air is sucked out of the atmosphere as The Strokes revert to a tight and claustrophobic motorik sound while Casablancas squeals in a register that’s far beyond his comfort zone. Don’t sing like that Julian, it sounds baaaad. It’s as if the band are going for that same cutesie razor-sharp nostalgia of the brilliant ’12:51’ but falling miles short of the mark and just sounding like a wasted karaoke rendition of ‘Take On Me’, but without the fun.
Welcome To Japan
Yeaaah! That’s more like it. ‘Welcome To Japan’ is a dark and simmering addictive moment of funk driven fun. There’s some pretty mean and lean Valensi guitar-work at play while Casablancas’ acerbic wit chimes: “Didn’t really know this, what kind of asshole drives a Lotus?”
80s Comedown Machine
Boy, is this unpleasant? It’s like being on a waltzer while hungover as an Ultravox drum beat slowly skitters beneath a slow and repetitive dirge. Pass the bucket.
Oof! That’s more like it. Where did this come from? Should The Strokes decide to tour this record properly, then 50/50 will certainly become a highlight of their live set – proving that the snarling growl of the chorus doesn’t tear Julian’s voicebox to shreds. It’s a fuzzy, fierce and furious little grungy pop corker, like Iggy and The Stooges via The Stranglers.
Partners In Crime
This is fun. ‘Partners In Crime’ is a rolling and mischievous pop gem that sounds like a close cousin to ‘Electricityscape’ from ‘Room on Fire’.
Mmm, quite lovely, this. Summer is just around the corner and never felt closer as Casablancas angelically harps over a mellow 1980s Eurythmics-tinged tropical sunset sound. It would have sounded quite fitting on his solo album, but makes for a rare moment of experimentalism for Comedown Machine.
This one may be a little too subtle for old-school Strokes fans, but that doesn’t stop its bubbly resilience making it a cheeky little earmworm – especially the catchy twist that the track takes in the last 35 seconds.
Call It Fate, Call It Karma
Not only is ‘Call It Fate…’ a wonderful ending to the LP, but it’s also quite a surprising departure for The Strokes. It has a true air of antiquity that they’ve not achieved before with a bluesy Nina Simone swoon above a warm crackling vinyl vibe. Fingers crossed that they explore this territory much more in future.
It’s a cliché to ask “Is This It?”, but while The Strokes would struggle to return to their impeccable form, that’s not to say that Comedown Machine isn’t a welcome addition to their canon. With piercing peaks and bright perks amid a handful of moments of landfill, their fifth LP certainly ranks higher than their last two efforts. It’s not enough to change the world again but accept it for what it is: a brief burst of pleasure from the daddies of garage rock. In short: Take It Or Leave It.