“Introducing new instruments into the Strokes would be like adding new characters to a sitcom.”
-Julian Casablancas, 2009.
The thing about sitcoms is they inevitably become stale. They become stale no matter how smart the writing, how far the show’s popularity soars or how iconic its aspects become in our culture.
The Strokes dabbled with changing their familiar formula on Angles. Julian’s stranglehold on the writing process ended and The Strokes became a collaborative unit where all five members were, and are, expected to contribute ideas and songs. That change provided Nick, Albert, Nikolai and Fab equal input and the final result slightly strayed from The Strokes’ familiar formula. Angles included keyboards on Games and backing vocals on You’re So Right, Gratisfaction and Under Cover of Darkness.
In spite of that small deviation from the norm, Angles sounded like a transitional record. It sounds, and continues to sound, like The Strokes pondering an overhaul to their formula – one that allowed them to become headliners at major music festivals around the world – by dipping their toes into the water.
Comedown Machine, on the other hand, sounds like The Strokes diving into the water head first while still holding true to the things — impeccable taste, expertly-crafted songs — that make the band unique.
When I reached the mid-way mark of Comedown Machine the first time I heard it, I remember thinking, “Finally.” Finally the band had broken away from the overwhelming shadow of Is This It. The band – let me remind you: The Strokes are led by a man who lit a cigarette and turned his back to MTV during the opening moments of the Strokes’ $2 bill special – did so by returning to one of its core principles.
“If we don’t get better, I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to just hit some kind of fame. I just want to do something good. That’s the only way I’m going to be satisfied.”
-Julian Casablancas, 2001.
Comedown Machine isn’t Is This It. It’s not as catchy. It’s not as direct. It’s not going to sell as well. It’s not going to change the music industry and inspire a legion of posers and a few really cool bands – shout out to the Arctic Monkeys – to make music that sounds like The Strokes. It doesn’t sound like a Strokes record and, outside of hardcore Strokes fans, it won’t be talked about six months from now because it doesn’t have a made-for-radio single.
But Comedown Machine is a fantastic record. It represents the Strokes entering a new phase as a band; one that hopefully consists of a long future making music together.
I’ve read about 10-12 reviews in the last two days and the two constants in each have been the discussion of Is This It and the future of the band. Many journalists hint at, or blatantly say, that Comedown Machine seems like The Strokes’ final record. They then cite the pre-Angles turmoil and Julian being separated from the other four members of The Strokes while Angles was being recorded. The Strokes’ media blackout and lack of announced shows haven’t helped dispel those claims, but I honestly don’t believe The Strokes will break up after this record.
One of the things that has impressed me the most about The Strokes over the last three years is their willingness to adapt to challenges in order to protect the longevity of their band. A producer isn’t working out? Fire him and move on. The writing process fractured the relationships within the band? Change the writing process. The media opens up old wounds within the band? Don’t do any press. The touring process kills the creative process? Then don’t tour.
If The Strokes don’t play any tour dates in support of this record – my opinion is they’ll play a limited amount, and their concerts will take place at big venues in major cities – I’ll be extremely disappointed. But I think there’s a valid reason for that decision, just like I think there is a perfectly valid reason for the media blackout.
It’s interesting that, in a time where there is more media than ever, how similarly almost every article has been about the Strokes’ new record. Each has talked about Is This It and how The Strokes have so dramatically changed their sound. This has typically drawn lukewarm reviews – Pitchfork gave Comedown Machine 6.1/10, Rolling Stone gave it 3/5 stars, the Chicago Tribune gave it 2/4 stars – but I think, for Strokes fans like us, this record fits in perfectly because it doesn’t fit perfectly.
That’s the beauty of The Strokes; they can change the formula, deviate from expectations and create 11 songs that seem new, familiar and exciting all at the same time. They can add characters to the sitcom and severely alter its formula, yet the final product still feels happy and warm and resembles a Strokes record. Most importantly, it leaves Strokes fans eager for what’s to come.
I, personally, can’t wait to see where The Strokes go from here.
Because this is a “review,” here are my six favorite songs on Comedown Machine, in order.
- 80’s Comedown Machine
- One Way Trigger
- Welcome To Japan
- Tap Out
- Call It Fate, Call It Karma
- Slow Animals