Music Review: Comedown Machine by The Strokes

Comedown Machine

One of my absolute all-time favourite bands, New York five-piece The Strokes, have returned in 2013 with their fifth LP, Comedown Machine. Laden with piercing guitars, dancey synths, and soaring falsetto vocals, this may not be the long awaited return to the sounds of their debut, Is This It, but it shows progression in the band’s maturity and proves their accomplishment as true artists.

My nerves were high when I entered JB-Hi-Fi last Friday to purchase their latest effort. As I walked down the aisle, I saw the glistering retro, race-car red of its cover, and I was almost overwhelmed by my insane happiness that I felt tears well in my eyes. It looked so beautiful, pristine, perfect.

Although, it’s not as though I’ve had to wait 100 years for their next album to come out. In fact, their last LP, the superb Angles, was released less than two years ago. That was the album that really cemented my love for The Strokes. They are truly an iconic and innovative band whose name is synonymous with grungy, fast-paced, garage rock.

When I returned home, CD in hand, I laid down on my couch, closed my eyes and was ready to listen intently to the next 37 mins 49 secs (as stated on the cover) of pure bliss and happiness.

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TRACK BY TRACK REVIEW:The opener Tap Out begins with a dirty guitar solo – reminiscent of old school Strokes – but proceeds into dance beat and falsetto territory, not so different from the sounds that we heard on Angles. It has all the classic elements of a Strokes song; a whining Nick Valensi guitar solo ¾ of the way through, bouncy drums courtesy of Fab Moretti and a catchy lyrics that are easy to sing along with Julian Casablancas. 3.5/5

The single All The Time follows which offers one of the more rockier anthems on the LP. Again, we hear some classic Strokes elements, with guitars that are piercing and the iconic drones of Casablancas. It’s a very accessible song, and perhaps the song on Comedown Machine that sounds the closest to classic Strokes, practically the Room on Fire era. This will be a big hit for them; probably a favourite for the live crowd. 4.5/5

One Way Trigger was the first track we heard from Comedown Machine. It was an “unofficial single” released about a month ago. It had mixed reviews at the time, and I joined the negative side of them. However, over time, it has definitely grown on me. Perhaps it’s because of the song’s insane catchiness, and the fact that I often find myself singing it – all the time. The verses are fine – slow and low vocals with a dancey beat and iconic guitar riffs – it’s the chorus had people in an uproar of negativity. This is because Casablancas’ vocals ranges into a high, spiky falsetto that often feels forced. Regardless, it’s a catchy song, and one of the stronger tracks on the album. 4/5

Next, we have what I consider to be the weakest song on the album, Welcome to Japan. This feels like it has been pulled out of cheesy late 80s, early 90s soundtrack to a B grade cop film. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. Casablancas’ vocals change their range so often that they don’t feel controlled. It’s only towards the end of the song that it finds its ground where it becomes rockier and more put together. The greatest moment of the song is this line in the chorus: “What kind of asshole drives a Lotus?”  That is hilarious. 3/5.

80’s Comedown Machine was a song that immediately grabbed my attention. As the (almost) title track, it sits in the middle of the LP and does exactly what its title suggests, creates a relaxing and peacefully atmospheric moment amongst synths and guitar rifts. It may definitely seem out of place, but it doesn’t feel as though it is. A very hypnotic and unique track, and it is a standout for me. 4.5/5

We burst back into action with 50/50The album’s loud, grungy and fierce anthem that certainly sounds Strokes-y, but evokes sounds of a by-gone era of rock and roll. Or perhaps it sounds like the future of garage rock. Maybe this is influenced by new kings of short, sharp rock; British bands like The Vaccines, Palma Violets, or even the more accomplished Strokes alumni, Arctic Monkeys. Most likely a future single. 4/5

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Slow Animals is not a bad song, just a song that makes you think “meh”, or why did they even record this? It’s quite dull, and even Julian’s lyrics have a sense of uncertainty about themselves. I cannot for the life of me understand what he is saying during the chorus, and usually I’m a pro at decoding Casablancas’ language. At the very end of the song we hear the band members laughing together as a cutaway; this is the most exciting part of the song, which must say something. 3/5 

The rather quirky and unsuspecting Partners in Crime follows with immense energy. It has some bizarre choices of sound effects, with synths pinging like a sci-fi video game, which are kind of off-putting when teamed with a relative good rock song. The steady guitar rhythm of Albert Hammond Jr. and rocking drums of Fab Moretti are what make this song a winner. 4/5

Chances is one of those songs that screams “80s”. It reminds me of something that could be played during a “slow dance at the prom” scene in a John Hughes movie. It’s a rather mellow song that chooses to exhibit Casablancas’ droning vocals that, again, change register so often that they seem awkward. So yeah, it’s an awkward song, much like a slow dance at the prom in a John Hughes movie. 3/5

I loved Happy Ending as soon as I heard it. It may be a funkier sounding song, but it has an added element of rock that makes it irresistibly dancey. Very evocative of Angles once again, which comes as a pleasant delight for those who may be fearing the OTT synths of the more electronic tracks. Perhaps the chorus is what really brings this song to a level of awesomeness, it’s catchy, upbeat and just pure fun. 4.5/5

With the sounds of a crackling wireless throughout it, Call It Fate, Call It Karma is like nothing The Strokes have ever done. Even on this album, it seems completely unique. Julian’s woozy and crooning vocals are paired with a simple electronic piano melody in the verses. The chorus soars with a strange beauty that is haunting and atmospheric. The first time I heard this, I thought that it could play over the credits of the next Boardwalk Empire episode. It has a bizarre quality of feeling old and new at the same time. The last 30 seconds exhibits a French bohemian circus theme, which bizarrely, actually works. 4/5

It is so fantastic to see The Strokes all working together again, sharing artistic ideas and such with each other, to give us fans this beautiful gift of music. It may not be the return to rock-saviour form that everyone was hoping for, but it certainly is not disappointing. Some weaker tracks do cause Comedown Machine to saunter, but overall, aesthetically, the album feels very put together, even if the tracks vary on sounds and paces.

One thing is for certain, I cannot wait for them to tour Australia, and hopefully their next album won’t be too far away either.

RATING: 4/5
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