When the Strokes
emerged on the scene in the early 2000s, they flaunted a very specific sort of New York cool that recalled forebears like Lou Reed or Television: nonchalant attitude, tough riffs, a casual sex appeal. More than 10 years later, this quintet may not be as popular, but they’ve evolved into a more stylistically diverse and interesting band. Their latest album, Comedown Machine
, still boasts its share of urban sophistication, but it’s also a playful, charming collection of songs that travels all over the map both geographically and musically. (There’s a track about visiting Japan on tour.) These guys remain cool, but now they’re also quite warm.
2001’s Is This It
was the Strokes’ much-hyped debut, a critically acclaimed set that helped usher in that decade’s garage-rock revival alongside other bands like the White Stripes
. Led by frontman Julian Casablancas, the Strokes were clearly indebted to the past, drawing from the simplicity of punk and the angular guitar hooks of post-punk
. With Comedown Machine
, the quintet demonstrate that they still love looking backward for inspiration. It’s not simply that they call one song “80’s Comedown Machine” -- the whole album is suffused with references to that decade, with Duran Duran
and A-Ha the most noticeable reference points. But more crucially, the Strokes are interested in drawing from that era’s slick, frivolous tone, resulting in an album that isn’t scared to be silly.
A Commitment to the Cheese
If this more gleeful attitude wasn’t clear, the first single throws the gauntlet down. “One Way Trigger” would have been a perfect track for any of those big-haired New Wave bands of the mid-‘80s what with its danceable rhythms and knowingly cheesy guitar solos. But it’s to the Strokes’ credit that they take their silliness seriously, producing a catchy track that transcends its potentially one-joke premise. Casablancas and his bandmates may know that ‘80s pop was hopelessly fluffy, but they’re no less committed to it than they were to the ‘70s New York rock scene they’ve long emulated, and the combination of the two eras on Comedown Machine is quite often dynamic. No matter what mode the Strokes work in, there’s a terse melodicism that shines through.
A Vocalist Who Entices
As a singer, Casablancas exudes his band’s sense of detached cool as profoundly as the music does. Nasally and snarling on an up-tempo track like “50/50,” his voice more often on Comedown Machine
settles into a falsetto that doesn’t necessarily suggest deep sadness but, rather, a sleekness that’s captivating if a bit chilly. Casablancas uses this to his advantage. On “Chances,” a keyboard-heavy ballad that works the same terrain as the Killers
, he sings “I will not wait up for you anymore” with a whispery remove that’s hard to peg emotionally. Is it despair? Is it calm acceptance? That uncertainty adds to the track’s allure. And then on the guitar-rock of “All the Time,” his cutting whine serves as an admonishment to the live-fast/die-young city kids he’s no doubt known. Though his somewhat monotone instrument may seem one-dimensional, it’s actually surprisingly elastic.
Life After the Zeitgeist
The danger of the Strokes’ early it-band status is that, by capturing the zeitgeist in their first try, they were doomed to become shackled to a particular era in alternative rock, their expiration date looming in the near future. With Comedown Machine
, their second album since recently ending their hiatus, these guys seem less concerned with recapturing a moment than they are in simply following their own influences. It can be hard to be in a band whose commercial and critical peak is probably behind them. But as the truly cool know, not worrying about your coolness is the coolest thing you can do. On their new record, the Strokes just sound like they’re trying to have a little fun. It suits them.
'Comedown Machine' - Best Tracks:
“One Way Trigger” (Purchase/Download
“80’s Comedown Machine” (Purchase/Download
“Call It Fate, Call It Karma” (Purchase/Download
“All the Time” (Purchase/Download
Release date – March 26, 2013