Following the release of Angles some people might be a little sceptical. The thing is that unlike Angles, which pushed the sound in new directions and sometimes flopped as a result, Comedown Machine is a much safer bet. It sticks to relatively safe territory for the band: guitar solos, cool licks, neat and self-contained co-ordination, distanced, hard-to-read vocals.
Theoretically, I’d rather praise Angles for bravery and berate this latest effort for its conservatism, but the fact is that these 11 songs work really well. Opener Tap Out has a chorus which bursts into life and immediately transports you to some L.A bar in the ‘80s; and it has a natural groove that many might have felt the band had lost, which is something that re-appears sporadically throughout the course of the record.
Welcome to Japan is a return to an almost Room On Fire like sound. Songs from that record like Automatic Stop or Meet Me In The Bathroom that seemed to capture a rhythm only the Strokes could muster, are reincarnate here. All five band members allow their respective parts to coalesce and co-operate within the framework of a danceable rhythm. Casablancas’ crass and careless lyrics like ‘what kind of asshole drives a lotus’ are dotted about with ease: it’s a reassuringly old-school Strokes song.
The album doesn’t hit every time, but even when it misses it’s not disaster territory. 50/50 for example, will no doubt be a good head bopper after a few drinks, but does lack both the freight train force it aspires to and the more self-contained neatness of songs like One Way Trigger. It’s neither one thing nor another really.
The album meets some of its strongest points when it leaves the two-feet-routed-firmly-on-the-ground sound and floats around in mid-air a little bit. Songs like Chances and closer Call It Fate, Call It Karma are more than just Strokes + synth. The chorus on Chances has an aching sorrow that gives a brief insight into something deeper from the band, and a free-form fluidity that briefly escapes the Is This It? style punchiness they’re famed for.
If you can take the odd spot of generic-Strokes-guitar-plucking then, then this album is well-worth buying, and sticking with to the hilt. It sounds as if the 5-piece have overcome the issues they had on Angles to create something that feels a lot more harmonious and full-bodied than Angles. It may not be as experimental, but it’s fun, heartfelt and marks a rediscovery of the groove they might have lost.
Words: Francis Blagburn