Shane BarnhillMonday,1 April 2013

The Snap:

Last week, The Strokes released their long-awaited fifth album, Comedown Machine. Critics have been quick to point out that the album, which comes a dozen years after the band’s instant classic debut Is This It, fulfills their five-album contract with RCA Records. The insinuation, from many, is that The Strokes mailed in this effort in order to play out their RCA deal and move on. Not exactly the type of press that encourages fans to download and purchase copies.

The Download:

But after giving Comedown Machine several thorough listens, I hear a different tune — a band that has put forth its most creative effort in a decade.

Yes, it’s true, this new body of work feels more like a disconnected collection of songs than a cohesive album in the traditional sense. There isn’t a consistent feel to Comedown Machine, and for many, that’s deal-breaker. For example, Julie Kocsis of the Huffington Post writes:

“But instead of creating an album with a new, clear point of view, they’ve created an album that just seems… lost. It wanders and experiments with sounds and genres. It makes an attempt, but in no way does this feel like a finished, cohesive record.”

Kocsis is right that the album wanders. Just listen to “50/50,” then “Call It Fate, Call It Karma,” and then “One Way Trigger” in that order (all three are embedded below). While you can tell that Julian Casablancas is the vocalist on all three tracks, they hardly sound like songs from the same band, much less from the same album. But the thing is, none of these songs sound as though they were thrown together as part of a plan to expend as little effort as possible in order to make good on legal obligations.  Instead, the songs reflect the maturity of a band that knows it has range and is willing to take some risks to show it off. The Strokes didn’t head into the studio to make something Strokes-y; they took a risk on a 1980s-inspired piece that is clearly inspired by Julian Casablancas’ solo work (ahem, 11th Dimension — see below).


Another eyebrow-raiser for fans and critics is the fact that The Strokes have no plans to tour in order to support Comedown Machine. This probably is a jab at RCA Records — just like the album’s cover art — and it also sounds like a subject of dissension within the band. Bassist Nikolai Fraiture noted in an interview with BBC Radio that he “would love to” tour; however, no tour dates have been announced. So it’s possible that bandmates are feuding behind the scenes about a potential tour. The good news, however, is that The Strokes actually got together physically to record this album:

“Fraiture also discussed how Comedown Machine was recorded at New York’s Electric Lady Studios, with Julian Casablancas working in the studio with the band, unlike 2011’s Angles, which was recorded with the band members in different places. ‘We hashed it out all together just the good old days,’ Fraiture said.”

So, to summarize, The Strokes are more united than they’ve been in years, and they’ve put together a new album that is far bolder than their past two efforts? That sounds like a different story than many critics are painting. And as Casablancas roars on “50/50,” one of Comedown Machine‘s better tracks, “I will say! I will say, don’t judge me.”

Or at least, don’t judge The Strokes’ latest effort based on reviews from the mainstream music publications. Give the album a try, because you’re likely to hear something far different than what they’re suggesting.

Hat Tips:

Huffington Post, Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound, KEXP, NME, Image Credit: Flickr

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