The Strokes - Comedown Machine

‘Comedown Machine’ is not, then, the most straightforward of albums.

Label: Rough Trade

Rating: 8

There are many important artists, but very few world-changing ones. The Strokes, it’s easy to forget after the near-universal dismissal of 2011’s ‘Angles’, are definitively in the second category. One minute the suburbs were all baggy skater jeans, bulky trainers and baseball caps. The next, skinny jeans, Converse, and messy shirt-and-tie getups. The difference? They’d seen a Strokes video.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that everything the band have done – will ever do – is, and will be compared almost universally unfavourably to 2001’s ‘Is This It’. 2003’s ‘Room On Fire’ gave us the brilliant ‘Reptilia’, ‘12:51’ and ‘The End Has No End’. ‘First Impressions Of Earth’, which followed three years later, offered ‘Juicebox’, ‘Heart In A Cage’ and ‘You Only Live Once’. These are hardly forgettable singles; but they weren’t ‘Last Nite’ or ‘Hard To Explain’.

‘Comedown Machine’ has done the best thing The Strokes could have done. Ignored The Strokes.

On initial listens, ‘One Way Trigger’, the first of the album’s eleven tracks to be put ‘out there’, sounded batshit: an A-Ha-aping synth line with falsetto vocals, as if Julian Casablancas had taken to ‘doing Whitney’ on karaoke. A few more plays and it couldn’t be anyone else; the unmistakeable chord changes, the foreboding sense of ennui. Nobody does boredom like The Strokes.

It’s just shifted from dive bar boredom to swanky hotel bedroom boredom. “What kind of asshole drives a Lotus?” Julian ponders on standout ‘Welcome To Japan’, as angular post-punk guitars and an ominous bassline pound around him. It’s all very 80s.

Opener ‘Tap Out’ introduces us right away to – yes – the broadening of Julian’s vocal range, alongside guitars right out of ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’ (this is not, one might add, a bad thing). ‘Slow Animals’ takes things further, almost whispering at times, and by ‘Chances’, with its laid-back synth backing, he’s channelling Prince.

Elsewhere, ‘80s Comedown Machine’ is tired-sounding organs and Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’ (both positives), and ‘Partners In Crime’ sounds like Phoenix taking on show tunes: it’s almost happy. Closer, ‘Call It Fate’, meanwhile, is prettily jazz-like; think ‘Ask Me Anything’ from ‘First Impressions Of Earth’ reinterpreted as dream sequence.

‘Comedown Machine’ is not, then, the most straightforward of albums. But it’s a clever one. The Strokes could’ve dusted off their baseball boots, partied like it’s 2001 and re-created their debut. It would’ve been an easier move. Instead, it seems, they’ve played around, tested themselves – unburdened themselves of anyone’s expectations other than their own – and won.