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Review: Comedown Machine is The Strokes’ Middle Ground

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Depending on how much you enjoy The Strokes’ lead single “All The Time,” it’s a fair indicator of how you’ll judge the rest of Comedown Machine. The band’s fifth album is released a dozen years after Is This It, the debut album that made them fixtures on the all-around music spectrum. Funnily enough, The Strokes’ unmistakable sound that captured the zeitgeist of the garage rock period of the 60’s is what translated into their instant critical and commercial success at the start of the 21st century. The collective physical appeal didn’t hurt their “cool” factor either. Is This It introduced us to The Strokes, and they’ve been endlessly compared to themselves ever since. By this measure, it is fitting that “All This Time” serves as the band’s first single because it’s easily the most recognizable in the form of a classic Strokes’ song––recalling their distinct rhythmic guitar interchanges and Julian Casablancas’ terse lyrics. It therefore feels slightly denigrating to admit that it’s unquestionably the weakest song on the album. This is alongside “Happy Ending” and “50 50,” both of which feel like shadows of the highlights off their debut including “Hard to Explain” or “Take It Or Leave It.” They illustrate the impossible expectations that lurk in the subconscious of any avid Strokes fan. As in, reiterating that even after all these years, nothing can truly match the songs off their debut or even subsequent hits like “Reptilia” and “You Only Live Once.”

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How do you judge a band against themselves? Especially when they’re still one of the great existing bands of the moment––they just happen to be vaguely standard when you draw the inevitable comparison to who they were a decade ago. The answer is that you don’t need to anymore. It’s clear after listening to the record in its entirety that Comedown Machine is a progression towards a possible future sound for The Strokes. The record is aptly titled when you take note of the fact that the song highlights are the surprises. “Chances,” “Slow Animals,” “80’s Comedown Machine,”––the ones hinting to the band’s transition away from the familiar 70’s post-punk sound towards an 80’s new wave genre that involves a discernible use of synthesizers tinged with a slight melancholic sound. By separating the rock decades from which The Strokes have already drawn influence, it’s only appropriate that they would turn towards the 80’s synth pop and soft-rock era at some point. “Call It Fate Call It Karma” is the culmination of the band’s potential evolution and hint of what’s to come. It brings into question whether it’s most effective to showcase what you know best or to face the challenge of wandering into untried territory, all the while staying conscious of the pervasive criticism that will come regardless. The fact that The Strokes’ closing track sounds more reminiscent of Henri René and His Orchestra’s cover version of “Sleep Walk” than any of their previous singles might be a sign that they are choosing the latter. Whether this will galvanize the band in a positive way remains to be seen, but––as evidenced by how much attention is still paid to them––everyone is interested.

Review by Sandy Chung



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