Since releasing the 2013 Music forecast, a few of the albums I discussed have been released. We’ve had They Might Be Giants’ “Nanobots,” which I haven’t listened to yet, and David Bowie’s “The Next Day,” which was honestly hit-and-miss for me. On Tuesday, March 26, another album I hyped was released: The Strokes’ fifth album, “Comedown Machine.”
First, a bit of background on The Strokes. The Strokes rose to prominence in 2001 after releasing their debut album “Is This It.” “Is This It” was an addicting garage rock album on which lead singer Julian Casablancas sings about the woes of newly-found adulthood and living in New York City. If you haven’t heard it yet, have a listen. It’s really one of my favorite rock albums of all time.
After the release of “Is This It,” The Strokes exploded overnight. Over the decade, they release three others albums. The second, “Room on Fire,” was a good sophomoric outing, if not as great as their debut. The next two albums, “First Impressions of Earth,” was pretty forgettable, and “Angles” was a phoned-in mess (Casablancas refused to work in studio with the band, singing his parts on his own and only communicating via email). When I heard that album five was on the way, I wasn’t all that excited. Nothing after “Is This It” had that same vigor and magic. Could “Comedown Machine” bring The Strokes back to the good old days?
In many ways, “Comedown Machine” is a step in the right direction. It’s much more experimental than the band’s prior outings, shedding their garage rock roots for a more synth-based sound. Even the lyrics are a far cry from The Strokes discography. Casablancas harps about settling down and where life goes as you age, completely opposite of their 2004 hit “Reptilia” (“Please don’t slow me down/ If I’m going too fast”).
The opening track, “Tap Out,” exemplifies this new attitude by starting off with a manic guitar before descending into a more traditional soft-spoken Casablancas singing along.
The album’s third track, “One Way Trigger,” stands out as one of my favorite songs on the album, and stands along the greats of The Strokes music. The peppy synth gets your foot tapping, and the drumming and guitar work are subtle but drive home the track perfectly. Casablancas’ emotional vocals accent the production even further.
“80’s Comedown Machine” is a great sendoff to the 80’s fad of synthesized pop songs, “50/50” follows The Strokes garage rock formula while adding a more aggressive tinge, while the final track, “Call It Fate, Call It Karma,” is a soft spoken, almost ambient sounding track that beautifully ends an album that illustrates that even a rebellious youth band like The Strokes is capable of getting old.
Overall, “Comedown Machine” is a step in the right direction for The Strokes, who many said were never up to snuff after their second album. It may not be the traditional Strokes garage sound, more soft spoken and sentimental than rebellious and rocking, but it is a necessary change after two albums most would call failures. Some of the material present is hit or miss, but Casablancas and friends manage to stick more often than not.