The world had almost given up on The Strokes. Their debut album Is This It seemed like a flash in the pan when all the albums that came after it didn’t impress as much. The band maintained a small cult following but never really grew its audience. And then, more than a decade after their meteoric rise to fame, The Strokes came back with a fifth release. Has Comedown Machine salvaged whatever was left of this New York outfit’s bruised fame?
The short answer is: sort of. The long answer starts with the band’s obstinate sound. Over ten years and four records, there’s been very little growth in The Strokes’ style. Sure, the groovy combination of garage rock with danceable indie beats was what got this band noticed in the first place. However, when that sound isn’t developed enough, what you end up with are five albums that sound almost completely the same.
But that’s not to say that Comedown Machine isn’t a good album. It’s a little bit better than good, actually. To someone who hadn’t heard any of The Strokes’s music (and therefore are not biased by their previous hits and misses), Comedown Machine would certainly be impressive. “Tap Out”, the opening track, is just grungy enough to re-establish the band’s raw and messy origins. But just as the chorus kicks in, you hear a bit of maturity and experience, giving the impression that they knew exactly what they were doing but are perfectly okay with it sounding as if they didn’t.
Another gem is “50/50”. Possibly the highlight of the entire album with arena-filling guitar riffs and gruff vocals, “50/50” marks a sort of shift as the feel of the album drastically improves afterwards. “Slow Animals” makes things a little weird for a bit as lead singer Julian Casablancas croons at a higher key than usual, accompanied by a bass line that’s a little too seductive for The Strokes. But “Partners In Crime” and “Happy Ending” quickly bring things back to normal. Kudos also go to Nikolai Fraiture, whose bass guitar skills are impeccable almost throughout the whole record.
Comedown Machine was the last album that the band was contractually obligated to produce with their record label RCA. Maybe the band has been bogged down by lack of creative say this entire time and the real The Strokes lurks somewhere in the future along with hopes of a sixth album. If that’s too optimistic of an assumption then fans will just have to hold on to Comedown Machine as the sophomore album that came four albums too late.