Comedown Machine is the fifth Studio album by The Strokes, to be released on Tuesday, March 26. On March 18, the album began streaming online from pitchfork.com a week before its official release, so I took the chance to review it track-by-track. Overall, Comedown Machine is a pumped-up 80s dance-inspired album that shows The Strokes taking things to a whole new level in sound. It is their best effort in years, and remnants of every one of their four previous albums can be heard perfected here on this new record.
1. “Tap Out”
First things first: Comedown Machine is absolutely the Strokes, but sounding less like themselves than ever before. But this is in no way a bad thing. From the get-go it is vastly clear that the Strokes haven’t stopped evolving their sound. “Tap Out” is the perfect track to open up the new album, beginning with a smooth, funky guitar riff that sounds a lot like it could have come straight from a 80’s dance tune. Julian Casablancas seems to have grown fond of his falsetto, as is evident from the previously released single “One Way Trigger,” and he utilizes it fully in this track as well. “Even though I really like your place/ Somehow, we don’t have to know each other’s name,” is the line he sings at the end of the chorus. This will definitely become a summer cruising song and dance-floor jam alike.
2. “All the Time”
This song was released a few weeks ago as a bonus free download for fans who pre-ordered the album. It is the one track on Comedown Machine that absolutely screams ‘classic Strokes,’ with an unmistakable Is This It-era vibe to it. It’s fast, it’s gritty, and sounds like it’s blasting across time from someone’s garage in 2001 (in the best way). Nick Valensi’s flowing guitar solo blends perfectly with Fab Moretti’s percussive chugging mid-song. The lyric “All the time in the world is all that’s necessary” seems to validate to fans that the wait for this track (and this album) was entirely worth it.
3. “One Way Trigger”
This track was the first taste of the new album that fans were offered when it was released back in late Jan. The song garnered mixed reactions from fans. Some loved the fast and fun rhythms and driving guitars that the Strokes are known for. Others scorned the prominent use of synthesized keyboards and Julian’s floating falsetto that permeates throughout the entire track. Regardless, “One Way Trigger” is quite a unique piece on Comedown Machine. Julian wails about finding a job, and settling down, and despite how un-Strokes this comes off as, the song definitely has a charm that can win you over if you let it.
4. “Welcome To Japan”
This entire song is a hilariously brilliant concoction of disco-funk and rock n’ roll, with Julian crooning over Nikolai Fraiture’s bouncing bass with his trademark spooky sarcasm. He suddenly picks up in certain spots and keeps the song fresh with plenty of “c’mon c’mon’s” and “whoo-hoo’s.” Every member is kept busy with this track as it struts along, and the layered vocals that Casablancas introduced to several tracks on Angles return to really complete the sound. Mid-song he even gives his best Boris Picket as he mutters “Welcome to Japan.”
5. “80’s Comedown Machine”
So now the titular track, which, much like the rest of the album, is nothing like you would expect from the Strokes. Thickly layered with mellotron riffs and echoey, arcade drumbeats, the whole thing sounds like a Wonderland dreamscape. But unlike some of the failed experiments from First Impressions of Earth, this song manages to be rather hypnotic and beautiful, meriting full playback value. By now Casablancas knows how to pull these sorts of tunes off, and while maybe it’s not the Strokes that we used to know, this song doesn’t lose the spirit of the band.
True to garage rock form, this song has an opening that is as guitar-heavy as 2006’s “Juicebox” was bass-heavy. Julian seems to be devouring the mic as he wails almost incomprehensibly in a way that is exhilarating to say the very least. This song is nothing short of badass and sure to drive the energy of any live performance way past 11 (if The Strokes tour anytime soon, that is).
7. “Slow Animals”
After the blasting overdrive of the previous track, “Slow Animals” cools things off with light, mellow staccato guitar parts from Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi. Julian’s chorus soars overhead, and a grinding Valensi guitar solo disrupts the tranquility as the band cracks up in laughter at the conclusion of the song, seeming to reinforce that the band has fully reclaimed the fellowship that they lost somewhere along the line in recent years.
8. “Partners In Crime”
Picking up again, this track is filled to the brim with sci-fi alien-bumblebee hammer-ons from Nick Valensi and an endlessly chugging, bright stream of chords from Albert Hammond, Jr. It’ll definitely tug up on the sides of your mouth. It’s tough to tell what might be the chorus and what might be the verse, but Casablancas has all the bright cheer and sarcastic undertone of Wonka’s oompa-loompas when he sings “Thank you for staying/ What are you saying?” in a piece that is both gratifying and ridiculous.
Bring out the synthisizers. This ballad might just be the most romantic tune the band has ever churned out. Julian reaches new vocals heights (quite literally) with his lofty falsetto. “I will not wait up for you anymore/ So you can ask me if something is wrong.” If this one doesn’t yank at your heartstrings, I’m not sure what will.
10. “Happy Endings”
Here’s a track that feels like it could fall right into place on the tracklist of Room on Fire with a classic Strokes soul. Second to last on the album, it really does mean what it says, “Say no more/ Just get it all off your chest.” This does feel like closure to an album that Strokes fans have been waiting on edge for. It feels like it’s over much too soon.
11. “Call It Fate Call It Karma”
… And then there’s this. This wax-cylinder phonograph rumba sounds like Casablancas time-traveled and ended up in the background of a rainy 1940s black-and-white film. He further amazes by going even higher with his beloved falsetto than on any of the previous tracks, rivaling the likes of Brian Wilson and MIKA. This is one you’ll just have to hear to believe. Despite how bizarre it feels, it’s not at all a bad piece of music.
So, 39 minutes later, The Strokes’ fifth studio effort is through. These 11 wildly different tracks weave together into what is certainly a strong representation of just how far the Strokes have come with their sound since their debut 12 years ago. Simply put, the Strokes are at it again. No future tour dates have been announced as of yet, but with the release of Comedown Machine, many fans are hoping it’s only a matter of time.