Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Strokes - Comedown Machine

Julian Casablancas once used a guitar amp to create the dirty and fuzzy sound that was wrapped around his vocal. Many years have passed since 2001's Is This It and Casablancas is still attempting to replicate the same sound. The Strokes are aware of how successful their debut album is, which is why they've continuously released something different each time. Having a sound doesn’t necessarily mean it's written in the blood. It's something that defines an artist, and that fuzz vocal and early 2000s indie rock certainly defines The Strokes. Guitar music was on its knees, and then a New York City band came over to the UK with a demo picked up by NME - the rest is written in toilet circuit venues around the world. Even 12 years on, The Strokes can safely release an album without backlash based on the strength of their debut album, Comedown Machine is the return album, the album after mid-career mediocrity, Angles. No matter how The Strokes release their music or market, they'll always have a dedicated fan base. From the mountains of rural Canada to the clustered flat living of central London, The Strokes live on.

Comedown Machine is The Strokes fifth studio album. Many years have passed and few Strokes albums have stayed in the memory. Their job in 2013 is to reignite the flame, take out the trash from Angles and invent something we can listen to, that they can build on. On first impressions, Comedown Machine is exactly what they needed. It takes the extra ear to hear beyond the face value RCA commercialising. The Strokes start strong with "Tap Out", a  track with krautrock influences. It features a quiet Casablancas in a retreated role from his usual frontman presence. He moves over for the instrumentals and top notch percussion. Following this is the pre-release single "All The Time". The fuzzed up Casablancas is back for more and Nick Valensi is here to scoop up the credit. It's a return to form and at track two, sits nicely on the album. 

There's nothing worse than an out of place track, which is why The Strokes have been credited for a career of perfectly picked albums. From Is This It right up to now, they never manage to put a step wrong when it comes to track order and relevance. Comedown Machine is a fresh start for The Strokes. They've had time away from the popular, away from success and now they're back with a full album of post-Angles material. To some, Angles was the end of The Strokes. After coming back from an extensive break, the rustiness never shifted and Casablancas' own musical creativity reached an all-time low contributing to the band. Comedown Machine marks the return of Casablancas, thus the return of The Strokes after his solo album Phrazes for the Young missed the mark.

"Slow Animals" is the reason why The Strokes took a break in the first place. When five guys come together with creative differences and a frontman whose control went walking, all productivity leaves. When describing The Strokes in recent years I’ve said the same things over and over again. This band repeats their music like a broken record. 'Lack of' becomes the operative word. It's what separates the poor music from the good music. The Strokes unfortunately continually disappoint, and Comedown Machine is no different. The Killers-esque "Partners In Crime" is scarily British in synth pop aesthetics. Indie rock bands are becoming reliant on electronics, which is essentially killing the guitar aspects of these bands. How can a five piece relate to an electronic environment, it's hard to pull off and only Radiohead can go on record being the crossover band.

It's not all glitz and glamour on The Strokes fifth album. The five piece have their punk rock / new wave "One Way Trigger". The electronic riff is lovely, reminding listeners of a faster and modern "Golden Brown" by The Stranglers. British synth pop / new wave and punk rock once influenced The Killers - a band who died somewhere between 2006 and 2008. This isn't the music The Strokes were brought up on. Where's the garage rock? Where's the 90s alternative rock? Something is missing from Comedown Machine.

Other than the opening two tracks, Comedown Machine is forgettable. They can create great guitar riffs all they like, and they do on tracks like "80's Comedown Machine" and "Chances", it's what they do with them that destroys them. These tracks have little to no direction. It's a fast paced frenzy from start to finish without much of a structure. Casablancas vocal hardly contributes and time passes by without wandering or thinking about that one interesting musical aspect, because it's non-existent. "Happy Ending" is an improvement over the lacklustre middle section, such as "50/50" where the synthesizers sound outdated and unnecessary for a band that once rocked the world.  

Curiosity killed the cat, and The Strokes won't bring it back. We see this time and time again, indie rock bands going somewhat electronic. In the UK, Editors went full on synthesizer with their third album In This Light and on This Evening, a very average album to follow-up a Joy Division loving career. The difference is Joy Division used synthesizers for emotion and atmosphere rather than a replacement to guitar, and Joy Division never intended to follow a craze like these worldwide indie rock bands. It’s incredible hearing such mediocre material from a band that once released the splendid 2000's guitar classic Is This It. Bands are throwing away what they've made, and they shouldn't do that. Keep it in the closet, lock it away or hand it down, but never throw away something special that defines you. This is what The Strokes are doing on Comedown Machine. Like I said above, this is like a fresh start, but it's a step backwards rather than forwards.


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