By Jon Winkler
Has anyone ever seen The Strokes look like they’re having fun? All bands must have some plaque written in the seedy bars of New York City’s Lower East Side that reads: “Look cool, be brooding and never smile.” It must be effective because since The Strokes slithered into the public eye with their leather jackets, untouchable swagger and modern odes to the Velvet Underground, Television and other bands of NYC’s art-punk movement of the 70s, people refer to them as one of the coolest (and best) bands around.
Singer Julian Casablancas’ growl and vocal delivery always had more unrest than ease to it, like he just broke up with his girlfriend and he’s done shots of Jack Daniels to get over it. Guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. strummed fast and hard on riffs that were as rusty as Joey Ramone’s or Richard Hell’s. With the tight rhythm of bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti, the band built on their positive press and the rising new-wave of rock in the early 2000s. 12 years and now on their fifth album, The Strokes are comfortable enough to tinker with their sound and enjoy the fact the people still remember who they are. (Can you name anyone else from the “new rock movement” in 2001 besides The White Stripes?)
“Comedown Machine” seems like a typical Strokes record from its first two tracks, “Tap Out” and “All The Time.” Both are under 4 minutes and feature mid-tempo but present guitar riffing. The Strokes change their sound mildly, with Casablancas doing mostly falsetto vocals and the band pulling back on the typical loud guitar volume in “Tap Out.”
They also try to mix their sound up, letting other influences creep in. “One Way Trigger,” the album’s first single, had fans scratching their heads wondering when The Strokes started listening to A-ha. “Partners in Crime” sounds like an anxious version of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” “Chances” sounds like a Killers ballad and “All The Time” could’ve been taken from bands’ own 2003 “Room On Fire”
They seem to send a message to themselves on “Slow Animals”: ‘You don’t have to be so down/Everyone can hear you in this whole damn crowd/You don’t have to try so hard/I think they got the message, you were out of your mind.’ The Strokes may even get hipsters dancing with “Happy Endings”: ‘Say it all/Just get it all off your chest/Shake it up/500,000 times/Say no more/We don’t believe in anything/ Teenage angst/Come all ages.’
There is nothing too revolutionary about “Comedown Machine” because the sound of The Strokes seems simple on its own, even if there are a few synthesizers thrown into the mix. It just sounds good to hear The Strokes being able to branch out a bit. They do it small doses of course — last time they really stretched out was 2006’s overlong “First Impressions Of Earth.” They looked to play it safe and stay with their niche on their 2011 comeback record “Angles,” but after listening to “Comedown Machine,” one wonders why they couldn’t have fun being The Strokes.
“Comedown Machine” should be an indication to The Strokes that their classic sound is at the end of its rope and if they don’t want to bore their fans, they need to wake up and surprise people with a more exciting sound. That’s not to say that “Comedown Machine” is a bad record, because The Strokes haven’t really made a bad record. Their sound is starting to become overlong and worn out, and that cool is starting to become coy. Shape up, guys.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Essential Tracks: All The Time, Chances, Slow Animals, 50/50