It’s always hard for me to review the Strokes because I’m conscious of being far from objective when it comes to them and that, to counteract my innate subjectivity, I tend to become far too critical. I openly admit to putting them on a pedestal that is so high that even Kanye West‘s ego wouldn’t reach.
The higher the pedestal, the steeper the climb, and with ‘Comedown Machine‘ it feels like The Strokes have failed to achieve previous peaks. To be honest it might even have been acclaimed if it was the work of some new indie band. However, therein lies the problem; The Strokes aren’t just some indie the band, they are… The Strokes; the best thing that happened to NYC garage rock since The Velvet Underground, and most importantly they are the guys behind that revolutionary masterpiece called ‘Is This It‘.
The Strokes are part of a group of bands and artists that have changed the face of music with their debut album, but never managed to attain that level subsequently. ‘Room on Fire‘, their second album was definitely great but not as meticulous, ‘First Impressions of Earth‘ completely divided their fans ( personally, I loved it) and even though ‘Angles‘ was rather innovative, the chaotic relationship between members during the recording process seemed to impact on the overall consistency of the album.
My first reaction when I listened to ‘Comedown Machine‘ was to think ‘where on earth has Julian‘s voice gone? ‘ and ‘Why the Falsetto ? He sounds like the Bee Gees‘. Of course I have nothing against falsettos, but when Julian Casablancas gives up his unique baritone to sing like Tom Yorke‘s little sister…I cannot help but think of this as wrong. It’s just plain wrong. Furthermore it’s not only the tone of his voice that irritates me ( particularly on ‘Tap Out‘, ‘One Way Trigger‘, and ‘50 50‘), but also the fact that he just sounds half asleep and is sometimes barely understandable.
My second reaction was to think that with this album, The Strokes seem to have sadly completely abandoned that special trademark beat, led by Fabrizio Moretti‘s drums that made them so instantly recognizable, and oh so rock ‘n’ roll.
‘Comedown Machine‘ is obviously heavily influenced by 80s sounds, with a lot of synths and electronic beats, and in that way is overall very similar to ‘Angles‘ and Casablancas‘ solo album ‘Phrazes For The Young‘. With this album they make it clear that their sound has significantly changed since they went from a dictatorship to a democracy after ‘First Impressions Of Earth’, and that they’ve moved away from their nervous style towards a much cleaner and funkier one.
I guess anyone who doesn’t know The Strokes well enough would tend to enjoy this new aspect to their music. I don’t. I like the dark, twisted and nervous Strokes. I like The Strokes that make me jump around every time I hear ‘Last Nite‘, lose my breath on ‘Take It Or Leave It‘, and break my voice on ‘Reptilia‘ or ‘Juicebox‘. Most importantly I miss the The Strokes that were everything but funky.
That said, there is this another side to this album which I quite enjoy as it feels like they are trying to go back to basics ( afterall bassist Nikolai Fraiture did say that it was their aim with this album), and it’s quite nice to have songs such as ‘Partners in Crime‘, ‘All the Time‘ or ‘Happy Ending‘ ( by far my favourite song of the album) that have a much ‘Strokes-y‘ feel to them. I was quite taken aback by how ‘Call it Fate, Call it Karma‘ sounds like Fabrizio Moretti‘s side project called Little Joy.
One thing that you can give The Strokes credit for is trying different styles of music and looking for possible evolutions to their own sound. Also it does sound like they finally had fun creating this album. So if there is one band that never sounds the same it’s them, and yes, a lot of people would see this as great.
Personally, I consider this constant vacillation as the identity crisis of a band that was abruptly chosen as the saviours of indie rock, and are now constantly trying to play the part.
Post by @OliviaScopes / Olivia