The Strokes’ fifth studio release officially drops tomorrow to much anticipation from any of us who have followed the band for the past 12 or so years. While there has always been the argument of whether The Strokes were geniuses here to save Rock & Roll or simply rich-kid posers doing their best impressions of gritty underground rockers. I’ve thought the former since the age of 14 and I’ve been hoping they would live up to that promise ever since then.
While many of us have been craving the next “Classic Strokes” album since Room On Fire dropped in ’05, the New York band appears to prefer to go in a completely different direction with their latest release. The Strokes adopted a style they hinted at with their last album, leaving many fans torn between those being reluctant to accepting the new sound and those going along with the change and assessing it for what it is, rather than comparing it with previous releases.
The album starts with a garage-styled picking that makes you think it’ll be all like “Heart In A Cage” (the Strokes’ third album opener) but then it was like “nope!” and then turns into something more like “Machu Picchu” (the Strokes’ fourth album opener) with its synthesizers, resulting in the fifth album opener, “Tap Out.” The two songs we’d already been exposed to previously, “One Way Trigger” and “All The Time” are arguably some of the strongest of the album.
“Welcome To Japan” has a bit of a kick, incorporating a 70’s/disco vibe that’s catchy and already sounds like a future live set-list staple. “50 50” expands on the band’s attempt for a slightly darker sound as heard in “You’re So Right,” from Angles. It has a bit of a Punk vibe that fits well with singer Casablanca’s classic snarl.
“Slow Animals” has a nice New Wave groove which really comes together well during the chorus, reminding us of classic Strokes with Valensi and Hammond, Jr. weaving together guitar parts excellently. “Partners In Crime” sounds like a weird, New Wave-y version of something Tom Petty would put together. The opening riff and the chorus sport a sound as peculiar as the previous line comes off as, resulting in an interesting and infectious sound that’s worth a couple of spins.
“Chances” boasts the most electronic and synth-heavy sound of the entire album. While the melody paints a decent picture with its mesmerizing loops, it sure sounds like something that would be a better fit for Casablancas’ solo project rather than something expected of the former Garage-Rock Gods.
“Happy Ending” also sounds like “Machu Picchu,” relying heavily on the use of synthesizers and a more melodic vocal part. The dueling guitar help salvage it. “Call It Fate Call It Karma” has a smooth, 60’s styled production with an artsy finish. It boasts a beautiful indie-like sound which can easily fit in a flick that would feature Zooey Deschanel, perhaps in a scene in which whoever has fallen for her now stares out his window longing for her, preferably set on a rainy night.
Overall, there are almost no examples within Comedown Machine that make you think that these are the same guys that made Is This It?, but as a standalone album it’s a pretty decent effort. Perhaps The Strokes are less to blame for the resulting product than we are for expecting something like the old Strokes. They wanted to go in a new direction and they’ve delivered; they have the artistic freedom to do so. After all, Julian Casablancas had already complained “Everybody’s singing the same song for ten years” two years ago on Angles’ “Undercover Of Darkness,” (ten years after Is This It?; not meant as a mere coincidence), so why should we have expected anything any different than what we just got?
“All The Time,” “One Way Trigger,” “Welcome To Japan,” “Slow Animals,” “Partners In Crime,” “Call It Fate Call It Karma”