Thursday, 21 March 2013

Flynndie Reviews: #36 The Strokes - Comedown Machine

Written 21st March 2013:

The Strokes – Comedown Machine

The Band: Julian Casablancas (lead vocals), Albert Hammond Jr. (guitar), Nikolai Fraiture (bass), Fabrizio Moretti (drums), Nick Valensi (guitar)

So today’s review sees the return of The Strokes and following a 5-year break between their third and fourth albums, ‘First Impressions of Earth’ and ‘Angles’ respectively, this month sees the band release their latest album ‘Comedown Machine’ just a mere two years after ‘Angles’ release (previously reviewed here including a more in-depth profile of the band).  So much like the band’s latest quick and efficient return, let’s dive straight into this review of the new record from one of New York City’s finest.

Comedown Machine

1.     Tap Out
2.     All the Time
3.     One Way Trigger
4.     Welcome to Japan
5.     80’s Comedown Machine
6.     50/50
7.     Slow Animals
8.     Partners in Crime
9.     Chances
10.   Happy Endings
11.   Call It Fate, Call It Karma

So officially released next Monday, I recently discovered the band had made ‘Comedown Machine’ available to listen early via stream on Pitch Forks website this week and have now given it a few listens myself, so feel free to check it out online before the album’s release next week. 

Launching with an initially rocky-squeal of guitar, before settling into a more calm but funky rhythm opening track ‘Tap Out’ gets the album underway.  As like with many tracks by The Strokes, the guitars on the track have quite a light synth-feel to them, very much with an 80’s vibe here, while Julian’s vocals find him more high-pitched and falsetto-like as opposed to his raw and gravelly-style vocals found on the earlier Strokes records.  The track features a funky, maverick guitar solo two-thirds of the way through it and overall it’s a fair opening track for the album and I think the rhythm of the track holds it together quite well. 

Next up we have the first official Single of the album ‘All the Time’ and this is much more traditional Strokes territory, with Julian’s familiar crooning vocals in full swing, backed by electric-guitar strums before an altogether more rocky, fast-paced chorus “You’re livin’ it up, you’re livin’ it up, you’re livin’ too fast, you gotta pray for the best” that sees the band build to their full-on Indie-rock sound.  I can basically see why the band chose to return with this as their first Single as it’s easy-listening and familiar to the fans.  However, it was third track ‘One Way Trigger’ that was previously the first glimpse fans got of ‘Comedown Machine’ as the track was previously made available to download online from the band’s website before the Single ‘All the Time’.  At the time this was made available I initially really liked the up-tempo, carefree, jangly rhythm the track carries while Julian’s vocals were also initially a bit of a shock to the system, again disguising his voice here in a high-pitched falsetto particularly for the lines over the chorus “Find a job, Find a friend; Find a Home, Find a dog”.  The track features a really nice guitar-solo from Nick midway through it and a lovely bridge, “You asked me to stay”, before returning back to its own unique jangly rhythm and Julian’s vocals.  While I noticed this track seemed to divide fans opinion of it (particularly as this was the first track we had heard from the record), I personally really liked it and still think it stands up well on the record at this point.

Next we have ‘Welcome to Japan’, a bit more of a slowed-down affair for the record so far but with another funky melody at the heart of it, re-creating all the glam of an 80’s disco.  Yes!  Julian’s vocals are back in much more familiar territory here and this track sees somewhat of a duel of guitars between Albert and Nick throughout.  It’s a carefully structured, well-built track with another really nice guitar solo midway through it and the catchy chorus “Come on and go get with me, I wanna see you Wednesday, Come on, come on, come over, Take it off your shoulder”, while Albert’s guitar really picks away and adds layers to the track through the verses.  It’s a good catchy, disco track and one I’d imagine that sounds even better while on roller-skates!  ‘80’s Comedown Machine’, almost the title-track of the album, is a surprising ballad for the band here.  Initially opening with slow percussion from Fab and featuring a guitar effect almost sounding like an accordion running through it, it’s a slow burner of a track, featuring really softly-spoken vocals this time around.  A very surreal type of track, it’s almost like listening to an old-school Strokes track in slow-motion, particularly midway through it.  Again this is another type of modern Strokes track that I think will really polarise opinion among listeners.

‘50/50’ sees the band back in proper ‘let’s hit the road at 100mph’ mode, with dirty, jaggered guitar-riffs demanding the listeners attention, with Julian really snarling through an echo effect and Nick and Albert’s earlier guitar duel taken on to another level here.   The track is a short, sharp burst of guitar angst and really all the better for it in my opinion, with a great punk-rock drum solo from Fab in closing.  ‘Slow Animals’ is up next and is another track that uses the cunning trick of slowly-building itself up using a damn funky rhythm and bass-line from Nikolai, with understated guitars cleverly backing and layering the track before another full-on rocking chorus.  The track pauses slightly in its second-half, with synths used to create a spaced-out feeling on the track, as if we’re being invaded by UFOs, before we resume our earlier funky rhythm but the kicker is how the track as whole builds throughout that really makes it.

‘Partners in Crime’ is another, up-lifting, upbeat track, this time with guitars working hand-in-hand to create a quirky yet charming and delightful rhythm, as each guitar riff ends with the note being held, and bent, before possibly the most instant and catchy chorus of the album so far, again featuring a fantastic rhythm diced with quirky guitar notes.  This is a very instant type of track and immediately put a smile on my face the first time I heard it.  I really hope this ends up as a potential future single from the band!  Up next we have ‘Chances’ and this is probably the most ‘stripped-down’ track on the record so far, with shimmering guitars, understated synths, distant vocals and chip-tune percussion.  This is a very experimental track by The Strokes and creates a sound that I would probably expect from a closing-track on a Muse album in my opinion, a comparison I never thought I would ever make to be honest!

Penultimate track ‘Happy Endings’ is another track on the album, with a very retro-sounding guitar feel to, it’s another instant, catchy type of track as Julian croons “Baby, show me where to go, Somethings I don’t want to know, Baby, tell me if you’re sure, Out all the time” through the tracks chorus.  Closing track ‘Call It Fate, Call It Karma’ is the most subtle track on the album, with a gentle guitar riff and piano playfully nudging it along, and those now familiar, softly-sung, dulcet tones from Julian on this record, this is probably the most surprising track on the album overall but there just seemed to be something underlying in the track itself that kept my attention to it throughout, I certainly never heard the band record such a track like this but it’s a hauntingly, beautiful way to close the album, almost a ‘Comedown’ as such.

So overall I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard from ‘Comedown Machine’ so far.  I won’t pull no punches in this conclusion of the review; if you were hoping for a record by The Strokes that really recaptures their edgy, raw, rock sound from early albums, the brilliant ‘Is This It’ or ‘Room on Fire’, then I feel you may come away a little disappointed here, as while there are patches of that traditional Strokes sound on here, as a whole I feel this record goes much down the same path as ‘Angles’, another record that sees the band experimenting much more with different guitar sounds and rhythms than that of earlier Strokes records.  I would probably have to say this is arguably the most experimental Strokes album to-date and the band will always risk splitting opinions with this approach but as I have said in the past that has always been a fascination about the band for me; I really like the fact that the record challenges and dares the listener into more listens before some of the tracks actually ‘click’ and fall into place on repeated listens.  The album as whole doesn’t blow me away but I certainly have enjoyed listening to it so therefore I’m going award the album 7 ‘One Way Triggers’ out of 10, as there is plenty going on with this album for the listener to get into and definitely feels like more of ‘a grower’ than the previously more instant ‘Is This It’.  I’m just now keeping my fingers crossed that the band will hopefully do a much long-awaited UK headline tour, as it’s been a long time coming!

On a Comedown

Track 2 ‘All the Time’  

Track 3 ‘One Way Trigger’ 

Band website: