The Strokes Comedown Machine – my review

The Strokes Comedown MachineThe Strokes are back taking risks with their sound and are all the better for it

Whether you loved, simply liked or were deeply disappointed by The Strokes last record, it is clear that without Angles Comedown Machine could not have happened. That album was a learning curve, the first step of the band writing and contributing to songs together.

It was also part of the slow evolution of their sound that really has been happening in every record post Is This It.  Whether with the slow Motown inspired Under Control, the minimalist Ask Me Anything, the rockier edge of some of the tracks from First Impressions of Earth or the 80’s tinge of Angles.  Despite what the press would have you believe The Strokes were never just a standard Rock ‘n’ Roll band they always had other ideas and other influences just waiting to come out.

When I wrote my Angles review I noted that “I’d rather they keep on evolving musically and in the case of Julian vocally than churn out the same old songs just to please people. I could end up hating their fifth record but if it takes chances and goes into new directions then I would at least respect that

Turns out this was pretty spot on, only I ended up not hating the new sound but embracing it wholly.

Some journalists have declared Comedown Machine a second Julian solo album which is in fact ridiculous as it is a group effort but the only time I really get that comparison is with his vocals, some of the range he tried on Phrazes for the Young is shown here. It is one of the things that makes Comedown Machine really interesting – Julian is pushing his voice to new places. Whether it is the much talked about falsetto, the weird eeriness happening in Call It Fate or the growl of 50/50. On Angles he sounded at times like he was going through the motions but that is not the case here. There is a lot going on often in the same song and he sounds much more engaged because of it.

Comedown Machine builds on the foundation of Angles and brings with it a much more cohesive record. Most importantly it is at times wildly entertaining.  The BBC review concluded that the album was full of “Brilliant pop songs – and sometimes that’s all that really matters” and they are spot on.

Now calling something pop and entertaining could sound like a backhanded compliment but it really isn’t. To be able to produce something truly fun that also stays with the audience is a great achievement.  These songs aren’t throwaway, they hook you from the start – quite literally some of the opening bars of the tracks are truly terrific especially 50/50 and Partners In Crime but then in that way The Strokes have always been so good at they stay with you.

The album starts with that 80’s influence (Tap Out), at the midway point we get possibly the most aggressive track the band have done yet with 50/50 and then it all ends with a waltz, yes a waltz in the form of Call It Fate, Call It Karma.

Tap Out

Decide my past, define my life / Don’t ask questions, cause I don’t know why

Hearing this track on Zane Lowe’s show on Monday is why I decided to listen to the entire stream. I usually hold out until I actually own it but that one song got me so intrigued by what the album had to offer that I could not resist any longer.

Tap Out is pure 80’s but like a lot of the tracks on this album inspired by that decade it’s not 80’s in the same way the songs of Angles were. Many reviewers have likened it to Michael Jackson and I can hear that. It has a great groove to it, in many ways I think it would work quite well as a Human League style boy-girl duet.  A great start to the record – a mere taste of what is to come. Also I am 90% certain I danced to this in 1987.

All The Time

You know the answer that you’re looking for

Once you hear the whole of the record All The Time seems out of place somehow, it belongs to an earlier era of the band’s sound. This doesn’t mean it is a bad song though and you can understand why they made in their first single because they really had no idea if the rest of the album would be embraced by fans or not.  All The Time will work much better in a live situation and hopefully we will get that opportunity to experience that. The chorus deserves to be sound very loudly and by many people whether in a huge field or a small venue.  The nostalgic montage video that accompanies the track has given me a greater appreciation for the song – it is a tribute to the band’s glory days,  perhaps even a final goodbye to that era and the start of a new one.

One Way Trigger

It’s just a trigger that goes once and you’ll be unafraid

I wonder if this song will be embraced more by people who initially dismissed it when it was first released. The falsetto freaked a lot of fans out as did the synths but really One Way Trigger highlighted the two most important thing about this album – fun and risk.  This song appeared out of nowhere on a Friday night in January and the shear shock of  did cause some people to say The Strokes had lost it, however it also got the attention of many others. Hearing it in the context of the whole record definitely makes it feel like it fits with the overall sound.  I’ve perhaps played to it a little too much as I often do with the first song of a new Strokes album but I know when I go back to it in a few months time it will sound as fresh and fun as it did the first time.

Welcome To Japan

You’re not just a friend, you’ll be born again / We’ll be in this race until the very end

Ridiculous. Hysterical. Brilliant. Welcome To Japan got a lot of pre-release hype and it is all justified. Every time I listen to I have an overwhelming urge to press repeat and start all over again – it is that tremendous.   Lyrically Julian has never been this much fun, not only with the often quoted “What kind of asshole drives a Lotus?” but I also laugh every time at the “Putting posters up for your band  / Now I’ll tear them down with my hand”  line – what an asshole move!

It’s a funky song and if we get another single this really should be one, I’m imagining a completely hilarious video as well.

Whilst it is an entertaining something about the later verses really get to me and that is why I love this song it really stays with me hours and days after hearing it. Like I said not just throwaway but something more meaningful.

80′s Comedown Machine

It’s not the first time I’m watching you passing by

Talk about change of mood and pace but this sudden comedown from the infectious Welcome To Japan is also completely beautiful. Yes whilst I’ve declared Comedown Machine as a fun record that is only one side of it, the other is the mellower and often heartbreaking songs. I’m having trouble deciding if 80′s Comedown Machine is track about lost love or one about obsessive stalker behaviour. It really can play either way. All I really know it that it belongs at the end of a sad indie film, the closing credits to a love gone wrong. Oh and a welcome return of the mellotron which previously graced Ask Me Anything.

50/50

I will say don’t judge me! / I wait on a darkened highway

The bastard offspring of You’re So Right and Juicebox, 50/50 is the kind of song that wants to run you off the road in the middle of the night, stalk you through some dark woods and when it catches up with you punch you in the face. It is very aggressive, it has Julian screaming and snarling throughout. It is so much fun.   Seriously so much fun. In his Time Out Chicago review Brent DiCrescenzo likened it to Badmotorfinger era Soundgarden and as we know the band have a lot of love for the grunge genre I can really hear the influence and imagine it might well be intentional.  Just don’t mess with this song or it will mess with you.

Slow Animals

They’re always scared of where their daughter’s been / ‘Cause who knows, she could be alone with men

I’m surprised by some of the harsh reviews this particular song got – it has slowly been capturing my attention with each new listen and is one of the stand-outs. Lyrically it’s one of my favourite of Comedown Machine, my interpretation is that is a tale of parents who really don’t want to think about their daughter having sex but with Julian who knows what he really means. I also cannot get enough of the guitars, so good. I don’t have a lot to say about this track because I just frankly adore it and find that hard to express.

Partners In Crime

Let’s all be honest we’re in a forest / We don’t belong

Along with Welcome To Japan the most amusing and playful track on the album. With bizarre lyrics about “pants on tigers” and Julian’s tongue-in-check “ I’m on the guestlist” drawl.  It’s kind of impossible not to dance along to this; in fact there should probably be some kind of international law decreeing that so.   Again the opening makes a huge impact that draws you in immediately. The guitars are simply delightful and excuse me I’m off to dance to this one again.

Chances

I take my chances alone, get on your horse and be gone / I will not wait up for you anymore, so you can ask me if something is wrong

This song evokes images of two people looking longingly across a dance floor at one another during a slow number much like Chances is. Whilst I said I didn’t really think this album was secretly a second Julian solo record I will say that this song does remind me of another Casablancas classic and that is Glass.  It is a lovely song, yeah I called a song by The Strokes lovely and I don’t care because it is and frankly they could write an entire album of love songs and it would probably be a really good idea.

Happy Ending

Say it all I’m not awake anymore / Change my mind, 2,000 times before

Another track heavily influenced by the 80’s but at this point if you haven’t embraced the band’s love of that decade then this album probably isn’t for you at all.  I really love Julian’s vocals in this track but also just like how like Welcome To Japan and Partners In Crime it really demands to be danced to. It is a tad too short but hey that is what the repeat button is for right?

Call It Fate, Call It Karma

There are many musical directions I expected the band to take but I will admit a waltz took me completely by surprise.  This song has a simultaneously eerie and beautiful feel about it. It sounds like its being played on a half broken gramophone in an abandoned ballroom in a long forgotten hotel and as the record spins the old place comes alive with dancing ghosts. That is truly all I can think about when I hear this song and that makes it at times a bit creepy – especially as the song fades out at the end with Julian’s unnerving vocals.

The closest this comes to anything the band have previously done is Fab’s side-project Little Joy but other than that this is not a song anyone would have expected from the band but it works, it really spectacularly works.

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Call It Fate ends Comedown Machine on a bold statement – if anyone had hopes that they might return to their earlier sound well they are dashed here and for the better if you ask me.  Comedown Machine is a risk, one they flirted with during Angles but were still working out the finer details.  It works though for several reasons; they sound more engaged, the risks they haven taken are bolder and thus the reward stronger and they not afraid to leave that old sound behind.

If this isn’t the end of the band and let’s hope it isn’t then who knows what album number six could bring. The Strokes will always have my love and now more than ever they certainly have my attention.

Favourite Tracks: Welcome To Japan, Slow Animals & Call It Fate, Call It Karma