Release Date: Mar 26, 2013
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
It's not totally clear why the Strokes make albums, is it? They don't seem to enjoy it much, and they aren't exactly bursting with innovative musical ideas that demand to be let loose. Yet the records aren't worthless – far from it. Comedown Machine is basically a solo trip for singer Julian Casablancas, showing yet again how much he respects Eighties New Wave.
“Brian, don’t fuck with the formula,” warned Mike Love during the writing of Pet Sounds. He was, of course, horribly wrong, but that was just bad luck – 19 times out of 20 he’d have been right. He would certainly have been right to issue such a warning before The Strokes’ last, disastrously disjointed album Angles – the first album written by the entire band rather than by Julian Casablancas alone.
For the past decade, fans of The Strokes have watched the band fading away before their very eyes. Not just through a series of albums produced with decreasing care, but with a bunch of increasingly lacklustre concerts too. They don’t even bother to tour any more, promoting 2011’s ‘Angles’ with a handful of festival shows at which the five members looked like they’d rather be sharing a stage with a corpse.Yet the fans still hold out hope.
Arriving a relatively quick two years after Angles, Comedown Machine reunites the Strokes with producer Gus Oberg, but the results sound a lot less slick and overwrought. Instead, Oberg provides a clean, intimate sound that feels like a natural progression for the band, with a mix of chugging guitars and synths that feels more organic and less like blatant '80s worship (and also bears a striking similarity to Julian Casablancas' solo album Phrazes for the Young). Likewise, most of Angles' uneven but entertaining tangents are smoothed away, making it one of the Strokes' more consistent albums in some time.
If they made instructional videos for schools about the perils of joining the rock’n’roll circus, The Strokes may have had you believing that being in a band is a joyless fate. On their last and fourth album, 2011’s Angles, you can hear the sound of five grown men’s heels screeching across the floor as they were dragged into the studio by their shrink-wrapped leather jackets. In the five years it took to make the album, they had, so reports go, scrapped most of their original material, ditched the producer and rewritten and produced it themselves.
When The Strokes began with the one-two knockout of Is This It and Room on Fire, the New York quintet’s instantly relatable lyrics mixed with an energetic and modern take on the three-minute rock song placed Julian, Fab, Nick, Albert and Nikolai at the center of the garage-rock revival, inspiring an entire wave of new artists. Ten years later, Comedown Machine suffers at the mercy of today’s trends with a lackluster jumble of genres from ’80s dance music (“One Way Trigger”) and hard-rock/hair-metal (“Tap Out”), to the ghost of Strokes songs past (“All The Time”). The results aren’t all winners, but there are gems where you wouldn’t expect them—in slower tracks like “Welcome To Japan” and “Call It Fate, Call It Karma.
A decade ago, in that vulnerable post-9/11 age filled skinny jeans and retro garage-rock, The Strokes were rock royalty. Their debut album, Is This It?, became the instant definition of disconnected New York indie-hipster cool—and Julian Casablancas had top-tier songwriting to back up their bad-boy image. But they’ve basically been critical punching bags ever since, releasing solid album after solid album of quirky new-wave synths and palm-muted riffage, never quite capturing the undefinable spark of their solitary masterpiece.
The StrokesComedown Machine[RCA; 2013]By Brendan Frank; March 25, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetWe’ve suspected, dreaded or flat out denied it for a while, but The Strokes have grown weary of being The Strokes. Their enthusiasm was at an all-time low on 2011’s begrudged Angles, like an actor on autopilot who’s still making films because he assumes he’s supposed to. They weren’t making garage tunes, and they weren’t making new wave or synthpop.
Comedown Machine accomplishes in 38 minutes what nearly a decade and a half of backlash and schadenfreude could not: make the Strokes look like total nerds. This isn’t so much of a revelation as it the culmination of what’s been happening ever since First Impressions of Earth. They got one classic album and another great one exhausting a sound that evoked decades of New York squalor chic through indestructible songs and contradictory images: garages where Orange amps are parked next to Benzes, a trust-funder’s highrise apartment lousy with beer cans and leather jackets, dive bars frequented by models and rock stars.
New York alternative rock band the Strokes return with their anticipated fifth studio album, Comedown Machine, which follows the band’s 2011 effort, Angles. Throughout the efficient 40-minute, 11-track affair, the Strokes oscillate between garage-rock and ‘80s inspired stylings. The results ultimately vary at times between being terrific, overindulgent, and mixed.
One of rock’s last true tent-pole moments, the Strokes’ debut benefitted from both perfect timing and an unprecedented campaign of major-label hype-massaging. This push positioned the Strokes as the band of the moment, the only act with a finger on the pulse of New York’s post-millennial, pre-9/11 fears, most of these tied to growing discomfort with the changing face of the city—feelings that inspired a nostalgia-tinged longing for a pre-Giuliani, peak-gritty dystopia. Their proclaimed messianic status was divisive, as it should have been: Fronted by the son of an international business mogul and a former Miss Denmark, this is a gang of quasi-identical moppets that came off as a prep-school version of the Ramones.
No interviews. No promotion. Probably no tour. Even before the first teasing squall of metallic guitar rings out at the start of track one, the circumstances of its unveiling tell you quite a lot about Comedown Machine, the Strokes' fifth outing. Their last, frustrating record – 2011's Angles .
“Don’t try and stop us, get out of our way,” Julian Casablancas last sang on 2011’s Angles. A questionable declaration then and especially now, some two years later where The Strokes have retreated from the bright festival lights and entombed themselves in the closed quarters of New York’s famed Electric Lady Studios. They haven’t toured, committed to press, or made any special public appearances — and there’s little indication that’ll change anytime soon.
Review Summary: The end of a road for the Strokes. It opens up like everything else in their career has - fully formed, cocksure, a raucous roar of feedback swelling out triumphantly over a field’s worth of screaming fans. The video tells a story in documentary form, bony-faced guitarist Nick Valensi smiling and giving the camera the finger before segueing into Julian Casablancas playing the brusque frontman (the carefully considered “how-do-I-look-like-I-haven’t-showered-in-days look paired with the classic sunglasses at night, etc.
Over a decade after releasing Is This It, the Strokes are still trying to figure out how to create an album that matches the near-perfection of their debut. The band's future looked unsure after Julian Casablancas literally "mailed it in" on 2011's Angles, emailing his vocal tracks. The result was a lackluster, disjointed attempt at a new sound. Comedown Machine marks the band's return to a more functional, cohesive unit, but sees them once again reaching for a vibe they don't know how to pull off particularly well.
The StrokesComedown Machine(RCA)Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)Stream the album When the Strokes released their breakthrough debut album, Is This It, in 2001, they unknowingly erected a monolith that would come to cast an inescapable shadow over their future career. Looking back, it’s no mystery why the album resonated with so many listeners and critics at the time. Commercial rock music had been mired in hyper-aggressive nu-metal and histrionic post-grunge (Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” was released the same year as Is This It, for one notable example), and The Strokes represented a return to a kind of bad-assed, freewheeling rock ‘n’ roll that favored scrappy dive-bar hedonism over blockbuster anthems.
Fans freaked out when they first heard One Way Trigger, the high-pitched, a-ha-sounding computer game soundtrack offered as the first glimpse into the New York band’s fifth album. They thought it was different – too different, perhaps, from the (frankly) stodge that came to pad out the group’s records since their glorious, youthful debut in 2001. But the thing is, on closer inspection, it’s really nothing new.
Had a Goodyear-sized blimp of grand magnitude read “saviors of rock” over a packed arena while the Strokes played, I’d say it was entirely deserved. It was a cause for celebration. May I offer an apocalyptic image of 2001 had the Strokes failed to exist: the sometimes-asphyxiating insularity of indie rock was barely treading water in the form of bands like Circulatory System and Dismemberment Plan, while on the other side of the coin, Staind and Tool were the ones tearing up the mainstream rock charts thanks to uninformed mothers buying their crestfallen sons birthday presents.
Remember when people thought the Strokes were going to save guitar rock? On Comedown Machine, the NYC group seems to realize those days are a distant memory and have given up trying to resurrect past glories. The band can still come up with strong hooks, and some of the 80s guitar rock references hit their mark, but the results are sabotaged by singer Julian Casablancas, who sounds like he's conserving all his energy and passion for his next solo record. Casablancas always seemed distant and aloof even in the band's earliest days, but here he sounds like he made placeholder vocals while watching a baseball game on TV and then never got around to overdubbing the real take.
Fair or not, Is This It and Room on Fire, The Strokes' one-two punch from the first few years of the '00s, loom heavy over all of their subsequent releases. And for good reason—those albums remain immensely listenable and enjoyable, the sheer pop prowess and technical chops belied by how casual they felt. With every record since then—basically, every record where they've tried to demonstrate something resembling artistic growth-they've been left scrambling.
Growing up in 1980s suburbia, it should come as no surprise that myself and most of my neighborhood possessed a classic 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. And there was one kid in the neighborhood, who shall remain nameless but with whom I remain in touch to this day, who didn’t quite get it when it came to proper video game purchasing. His parents always took a “quantity over quality” tact, preferring him to get three horrendous games at fifteen dollars each as opposed to a single good one at forty-five.
There are many important artists, but very few world-changing ones. The Strokes, it’s easy to forget after the near-universal dismissal of 2011’s ‘Angles’, are definitively in the second category. One minute the suburbs were all baggy skater jeans, bulky trainers and baseball caps. The next, skinny jeans, Converse, and messy shirt-and-tie getups.
Brilliant pop songs – and sometimes that’s all that really matters. James Skinner 2013 For anyone who was keeping up with the music press around the turn of the century, The Strokes were ubiquitous. Hailed as the saviours of an alternative scene that had grown dull and stagnant, they exploded into the public consciousness with The Modern Age EP and followed it up with Is This It, one of the most perfectly realised debut albums in recent history.
Comedown Machine, the Strokes’ last full-length release in their contract with RCA, marks the end of an era for a band best known for reigniting indie rock in the early 2000s. And yet it comes quietly, without any tour announcement and murmurs from the press instead of the usual fanfare. It’s the polar opposite of the circus of hype that rolled into town a little over a decade ago, when their RCA debut arrived to squeals of anticipation.
Few who saw and heard the Strokes when they burst forth from the New York City music scene more than a decade ago would have predicted that the quintet still be around today, let alone releasing their fifth album. The group had a sound and an attitude that seemed primed for a quick burnout. Yet, here they are, original lineup intact and on Comedown Machine maturing as a unit in an absolutely appropriate fashion.
The raw, unadulterated cool that oozed from the Strokes’ 2001 debut, Is This It?, wasn’t new — it drew on a pastiche of torn ’70s-punk denim, dead-eyed Velvets stares, and post-everything downtown grime. But it was powerful, and even if you didn’t dig their rewrites of Television tunes, it was hard to deny they looked good walking into a party. But as with Fonzie and flannel before them, the giddy buzz faded and the Strokes were left to figure out what comes next.
The Strokes have never aspired to be average. Even though their debut carried a self-deprecating, defeatist title the band had grand ambitions straight from the start and with songs as blisteringly inventive and breathlessly infectious as those on Is This It, why wouldn’t they want to make their distinctive mark while conquering the music world in the process? The New York City quintet brazenly helped revive American guitar rock at the exact moment it needed a strident shock to the system but their record have increasingly fallen off in both style and substance – to the point where some young fans might wonder what the big deal was with these guys in the first place. Comedown Machine, the band’s wildly discursive fifth studio album, certainly isn’t going to allay the concerns of new listeners or longtime fans as The Strokes offer up an uneven, mundane collection of disparate songs that are among the safest of the group’s career, even as they shift towards an uneasy throwback experimentalism that passes timidly for some type of mid-period sonic reinvention.
Well, if The Strokes never manage to recapture the hot-posh-boys-with-dumb-riffs frisson that once made them such a good time, they've at least, with their fifth title, given me a new entry in my budding listicle The 25-Most Unfortunate Unintentionally Apt Album Titles Of All Time. Because fuck me, Comedown Machine is a draaaag. If their last effort, the dreary Angles, was the car-crash, this album feels like months in hopeless traction.