Whether you believe The Strokes are the 21st century saviors of rock and roll or consider them nothing more than an over-hyped garage band, there’s no denying their force in the trajectory of rock music in the last decade.
Last week, The Strokes released their fifth studio album, Comedown Machine, a monumental moment in the band’s history. A quick glance at the album’s cover indicates just one image: a logo of record label RCA Records. Though it may seem like lazy design, the image instead holds special significance.
After the Strokes’ 2001 EP The Modern Age generated hype across the music industry, major record labels engaged in an extended bidding war to sign the band. RCA Records emerged victorious and signed the Strokes to a five-album contract, which now comes to a close with Comedown Machine.
To fully understand and appreciate Comedown Machine, it’s necessary to put it into context of The Strokes’ history. The band first gained critical acclaim after their 2001 debut album Is This It was hailed by music critics as one of the best rock albums of all time. Room on Fire was met with similar success, and three years later, the band released First Impressions of Earth.
Creative rifts in the band caused lead singer and frontman Julian Casablancas to venture into side projects, while the band went on a five-year hiatus.
Comedown Machine represents the culmination of a rocky, 12-year career. Through the band’s ups and downs, however, The Strokes have had fans and critics on the edge of their seats, eagerly awaiting each successive album.
The Strokes are fully aware of their charm. “You don’t want to be without this,” sings Casablancas on “Tap Out,” the funky first track.
Casablancas speaks truth. Simply put, Comedown Machine is a solid rock album. It’s a bit lighter and poppier than the garage rock sound of the band’s first two albums.
Casablancas’ singing voice is more subdued, sometimes so much so that it’s hard to make out what he’s saying. In this respect, Comedown Machine follows in the same vein as Angles and even Phrazes For the Young, Casablancas’ new wave, rock electronica solo project. For the most part, however, the album is upbeat, with the still-present catchy guitar riffs that are so characteristic of The Strokes.
Comedown Machine makes way for experimentation as Casablancas goes falsetto over a Latin-inspired riff on “One Way Trigger.” The song tackles Casablancas’ transition from his rebellious rock and roll lifestyle to growing up and settling down with his wife. As he sings the chorus, “settle down, out of town/ Find a dream, shut it down,” one feels that Casablancas’ days of lurking in bars all night are rapidly flying away – and so are his dreams.
“Welcome to Japan” showcases a quirkier side of The Strokes, with lyrics that feel meaningless and disjointed. On “80’s Comedown Machine,” the album shifts to a dream pop sound, coming down from the energetic sound that’s been present thus far.
Musically, Comedown Machine‘s best songs are toward the latter half of the album. In their simplest interpretations, tracks such as “Partners in Crime,” “Chances” and “Happy Ending” are delicious pieces of ear candy.
Song writing hasn’t ever been a particular strength of The Strokes, however, and lyrically, Comedown Machine is weak. Some of the album’s vague lines could be interpreted as artistically enigmatic, but they frequently fall flat.
If you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past 12 years and haven’t ever listened to The Strokes, give this album a listen.
If you’re familiar with The Strokes but are afraid that Comedown Machine couldn’t possibly measure up to your old favorites, listen to it anyway. If you’ve already listened to the album, listen to it again, because like all Strokes’ albums, it gets better with each listen.
– By Harmeet Kaur
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons