The Strokes: Comedown Machine
Alternative & Indie
With Comedown Machine, the band’s final verdict is now clear: the Strokes are officially no longer the same band that produced the near perfect first two albums, Is This It? and Room on Fire, about a decade ago. They might be the same individuals, per se, but those individuals have grown up, changed, separated, reconvened, hated each other, had side projects and come back together, often reluctantly.
After third album, First Impressions of Earth, recieved mixed reviews and the band went on an indefinite hiatus in 2006, they ‘reluctantly reconvened’ in 2011 to create their fourth album, Angles. Just short of a disaster, the album is confused and lacking in the ‘Strokes’ identity – not surprising considering that lead singer and main composer, Julian Casablancas, refused to be in the studio at the same time as the others during recording.
Nonetheless, despite the confused nature of Angles, the Strokes have now done what all great bands do; just plough on. Their latest release, Comedown Machine, sounds like the band has accepted that they are no longer the same people and are ready to run with their new selves and new songs without inhibition. The result is a very interesting, very beautiful, though at points tragically bad, piece of work that will likely be very challenging to early Strokes fans.
Comedown Machine is the Strokes moving forward unabashedly and just producing what they think sounds good. While still present, the ‘in your face’, tight as hell, nostalgic garage rock revival sound has been abandoned largely for songs clearly informed by new indie bands – like Beach House and Deerhunter – as well as old genres such as new wave, and 50s doo wop girl groups. In other words, making sure the songs are guitar driven is no longer a signature sound of the Strokes as all kinds of effects pedals, synthesisers and organs are present on the album. Casablancas is no longer the drunken, youthful, restless, deep-voiced crooner, but has now moved to sing in falsetto at times, amongst other things.
At times, this new approach works incredibly well, and has earned the band beautiful songs such as ‘80s Comedown Machine’, which sounds a bit like the Strokes covering Massive Attack; ‘Chances’, which sounds like a Beach House cover; and the early-20th century sounding ‘Call it Karma, Call it Fate’, which sounds like it was recorded in the 1950’s. However, despite referencing other bands to describe the songs, they still very much do sound like the Strokes; it’s beautiful when a new approach works.
However, there are times, as expected, when this approach fails miserably. Upon release, the album’s first single, ‘One Way Trigger’, was insanely confusing to fans of the Strokes’ early sounds. It sounds like a group of amateurs trying to rip off Norwegian pop band, A-Ha, using just digital instruments from Garage Band. On the other hand, ’All The Time’, sounds like the Strokes trying to imitate their younger selves, which, whilst upbeat, just sounds really soulless.
Nonetheless, as a whole, Comedown Machine is a pretty beautiful and triumphant record for a band that finds itself in the challenging position of ploughing forward in the midst of a musical landscape vastly different from the one it built its iconic status upon.