In 1994, Kurt Cobain from the famous grunge band Nirvana wrote in his suicide note, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Later on in January of 2006, The Strokes made their debut with their first album Is This It. Following its release, the band received critical acclaim from music critics, listeners, and even fellow bands such as Coldplay, describing Is This It as their favorite album in 15 years, and music legends such as Lou Reed and Morrissey attending their shows. Fast-forwarding to 2013, The Strokes officially released their fifth studio album titled Comedown Machine on March 26.
Comedown Machine is the final album produced under their long-term contract with RCA Records. Perhaps it is for this reason that the album cover has the letters “RCA” dominating the front slip, a disappointing design especially considering the intricate illustrations and modern photography that decorated the previous covers. This sudden change is also quite representative of the shift in their musical direction; the unrefined garage sounds and filtered vocals that mesmerized the public in 2006 have been replaced by newer, more delicate instrumental work.
The album begins with the song “Tap Out,” which sounds like what could have been the result if Daft Punk remixed Michael Jackson’s "Smooth Criminal." It is less like the repetitive Strokes from before and more like some artist you found on Myspace in 2007, back when the website was the hub for amateur musicians trying to break through. Although the first song delightfully prepares you for the change that is to come, “All The Time” feels like the band is going back to Is This It and their third album First Impressions of Earth. Unfortunately, with no catch and continuously boring sounds, the song is a mediocre version of their previous works (If you’re a die-hard Strokes fan who feels obliged to like every one of their songs, watching the music video might help, as it features the familiar faces of the band members).
“One Way Trigger,” however, has catchy synth melodies that are inevitably addictive. Interestingly, you can hear Julian Casablancas (main vocalist) and Albert Hammond Jr. (guitarist) handing the mic back and forth, which is the first time that anyone other than Casablancas took part in the singing. Both this song and “Chances” feature Casablancas hitting extremely high notes and singing in falsetto, which might worry some fans who are aware of Julian’s middling ability to perform live. The comparatively upbeat songs on the album all contain delicate guitar solos and dynamic melodies that distinguish each song.
“80’s Comedown Machine,” “Chances,” and “Call It Fate, Call It Karma,” though different from each other, sound like slow French lullabies and mystical cinematic music that could be heard in movies such as Midnight in Paris. Coincidentally, the movie introduces the concept of Golden Age Syndrome, which is the tendency to believe that works of art and other social characteristics were better before, romanticizing certain years in history, and that nothing in the present will ever come close in value to the products of that period. If you are one of those people who are caught in the Is This It vortex, these songs might not be to your liking.
Referring back to Cobain’s note, some might argue that The Strokes are currently in the process of “fading out.” It is true that the band’s later albums were not as publically praised and celebrated as the first one, but that is not to say that they are of subpar quality. As with any new change, The Strokes’ modifications in music style require a kind and open ear. If keeping that in mind on your first listen, Comedown Machine will definitely satisfy your expectations for band’s comeback.
Ji Ha Kim