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The Strokes
Comedown Machine Emily Mackay , March 26th, 2013 11:57

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Well, if The Strokes never manage to recapture the hot-posh-boys-with-dumb-riffs frisson that once made them such a good time, they've at least, with their fifth title, given me a new entry in my budding listicle The 25-Most Unfortunate Unintentionally Apt Album Titles Of All Time. Because fuck me, Comedown Machine is a draaaag. If their last effort, the dreary Angles, was the car-crash, this album feels like months in hopeless traction.

And yet, if the account of bassist Nikolai Fraiture in the one Strokes interview in the run-up to release is to be believed, working relations in the band are much better now than at the start of Angles - this collection of songs, some left over from that album and some written while touring it, was "hashed out all together like the good old days", as opposed to the fragile relationships fractured recording process of last time round.

Fraiture also noted, more revealingly, that "It's kind of funny that new music doesn't feel as natural as it used to". Nothing on Comedown Machine really sounds natural either; it comes across awkward, hollow, like dead-chemistry trying listlessly to spark.

Angles at least had 'Under Cover Of Darkness', a song that purred with the on-heat energy that once made The Strokes so irresistible. The lead track for this album was the deliberately difficult 'One Way Trigger', with its banal, video-game theme synths,  and Julian Casablancas' whiny, dispassionate falsetto.

Often here, it's Casablancas that seems to be the problem. He's always set the dominant tone, and whereas once his detachment was haughty and bristling with leather jacket aggro, now it's a listless, lazy-sounding eyeroll. 'Tap Out' opens things in an angsty way, that sort of Hall & Oates-tinged, suave-but-scratchy urban funk pop they've been dabbling in for a while now, Julian cracking out his sickly falsetto. It's not that he doesn't sound like he's trying at all; just that things just aren't quite coming together. 'All The Time' sounds like it's trying to recapture the magic, but trips over itself halfway out of the armchair, while '50/50' and 'Slow Animals' meander along in a stoned-sounding, complacent fug.

Flickers of excitement come with 'Partners In Crime', which manage to summon something akin to fire in its belly, and the closer 'Call It Fate, Call It Karma', which has something of the spirit of Strokes pal Adam Green's recent album with Binki Shapiro, all '50s pop and faux-vintage production, an example of them trying something different that works, slight as it is. No one wants them to rewrite Is This It over and over again, but surely being The Strokes shouldn't be, and shouldn't sound like, such hard work? A lot of Comedown Machine is adequate, but in a way you never had to do with The Strokes at their best, you're left sort of wondering what the point of this music is. Who it's for. Why it's there. I wonder if The Strokes could tell you? Well, given that they're not talking to the press about it, they either couldn't or feel like they don't need to. Perhaps it would be snide to note here that this album will be the final one in the Strokes' RCA contract. But hey, they've bummed us out enough, may as well return the favour.

Michael E
Mar 26, 2013 4:40pm

Their first album, highly praised, cleverly promoted, chanelled with speed of light from cult to classic status, that was a draaaag, too. Would be interesting to read a review about those overrated songs.

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Constance
Mar 26, 2013 4:49pm

Emily MacKay can hardly go around writing bon mots about indie garbage like Palm Violets and Spector and then expect us to a disparaging review of The Strokes - which tbf is shooting fish in a barrel - seriously. There is only one fitting response to the lot of the bands - indie GULAG.

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Mar 26, 2013 7:42pm

"No one wants them to rewrite This Is It over and over again..." except that that is exactly what they've done their entire career. and This Is It wasn't very good to begin with.

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Tom
Mar 26, 2013 8:01pm

There's literally no depth or purpose to any of the music they make anymore (if there ever really was any).

If you took a sports car, stripped out the useful insides and left the remaining shell to fade and rot, you'd have The Strokes. How fun.

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Jack S
Mar 26, 2013 9:23pm

"No one wants them to rewrite This Is It over and over again..." Um... Don't you mean Is This It?

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triani
Mar 26, 2013 10:04pm

it's an ok album

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Loztralia
Mar 27, 2013 6:39am

In reply to Michael E :

Jeez you haven't been looking very hard have you? Roughly 78% of everything written about the Strokes in the past decade has fallen into the broad category "I never thought they were any good anyway". A mere 20% continues to hold to the once-popular "they haven't been any good since the first record". And the remaining 2% is just deluded.

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Rob W
Mar 27, 2013 12:28pm

I dunno, I was pleasantly surprised (by the music at least). Besides the odd single, I haven't really listened to much of their last stuff.

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Fanny McGregor
Mar 27, 2013 6:19pm

Hint: The Strokes were always crap and never worth 1/100th the attention they received... For which I blame gullible Brits especially; sometimes you got it right, as with Dinosaur Jr c. '87-'88, but other times... it's pathetic. I remember some 12 or even 20 page MOJO feature on these idiots who, with Interpol, are damn near the nadir of American "rock" music is capable of. Please please please just ignore them in the future and forget the inane past that wasn't worth shit the first time around!!! Thank you,

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Mar 28, 2013 7:07am

"...you're left sort of wondering what the point of this music is. Who it's for. Why it's there."

A similar insight from Rolling Stone: "It's not totally clear why the Strokes make albums, is it? They don't seem to enjoy it much, and they aren't exactly bursting with innovative musical ideas that demand to be let loose".

Interesting. These comments make me want to at least listen to the album, and hear what non-motivated art sounds like. Maybe it's their "Human After All", Daft Punk's apparently deliberately lethargic non-effort, that is actually one of the best and strangest albums I own.

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Michael E
Mar 28, 2013 8:29am

In reply to Fanny McGregor:

Ah, at least one person in the universe who's sharing my opinion about even their debut being crap of the highest order!

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Michael E
Mar 28, 2013 8:39am

In reply to Loztralia:

With all due respect, but as far as I remember, their terribly overrated debut was highly praised by the majority of music journalists. Here, in Germany, it was regarded as a future classic. In England it was seen as the dernier cri, very hot shit, ams rock music? A new coolness. Being a music journalist myself, I became curious and listened. Sometimes really bad music hits the spirit of the times at some strange angle.

In the history of this band, there was one thing I liked: the cover of their second studio album.

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Michael E
Mar 28, 2013 8:41am

In reply to Michael E:

Ignore "ams rock music"!

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Shit Guys Like
Mar 29, 2013 10:24pm

Hey Emily really enjoyed your review, we ended up enjoying the album it was different, but a good different. We've also done a review from our perspective and would like to hear your opinions on it. It's part of an assignment for our class in College. Please if you don't mind check it out at http://shtguyslike.blogspot.ca/2013/03/the-strokes-comedown-machine-review.html
Thanks!

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Pavel
Mar 31, 2013 3:11pm

The review is spot-on, of course, but I'm genuinely confused to hear about a young Casablancas "bristling with leather jacket aggro." Are we talking about the same band? Strokes were ALWAYS "a listless, lazy-sounding eyeroll," and this was a part of their appeal to a certain set.

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Bob
Apr 23, 2013 10:51pm

Seriously...this record is so misunderstood. Shitbags.

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