‘If we don’t get better, I don’t want to do this anymore’ — TheStrokesNews.com reviews ‘Comedown Machine’

by Eric Van Dril · 210 comments

“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.

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Because this is a “review,” here are my six favorite songs on Comedown Machine, in order.

  1. 80’s Comedown Machine
  2. One Way Trigger
  3. Welcome To Japan
  4. Tap Out
  5. Call It Fate, Call It Karma
  6. Slow Animals

{ 210 comments… read them below or add one }

201 the modern age April 2, 2013 at 6:56 am

@Matt, Yes I did notice that! The beginning of W2J sounds reminiscent of some kind of Strokes demo too, IMO. Something about the progression.

202 MS April 2, 2013 at 8:56 am

Just got confirmation of my vinyl shipping! It says it’ll arrive anywhere from the 12th to the 26th, does that seem a little off? I thought it’d be in within a week or so?

203 Ben B. April 2, 2013 at 11:22 am

Why would Julian say ‘If we don’t get better, I don’t want to do this anymore’ in 2001??? im confused

204 ITAO April 2, 2013 at 7:17 pm

@Ben B.
He meant that if The Strokes didn’t progress as a band, they would have broken up. Though there sound in 2001 was the sound that made them famous, they really needed to breakaway from it or else the band wouldn’t exist today. The past three albums prove that they indeed, have progressed as a band.

205 MDG April 3, 2013 at 4:09 am

@whoopi it caught my attention because i think it really stood out from the background noise called “music” being played at the Philippines during that time! The Stroked are seriously underrated. Thanks , man!

206 RadhikaGore April 4, 2013 at 8:28 pm

i love ALL the songs. end of story.

207 Matt7777 April 26, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I’m sick of the Stroke bashing in the media. The Strokes are the best rock band out there and CM nails it. Partners in Crime is my fave on CM, followed by WtJapan, 50/50, Tap Out and All the Time. It is a great LP is you are willing to listen with no preconceived notions. Partners in Crime trumps anything I’ve heard in music since You Only Live Once. 50/50 makes me scream the lyrics with Julian. Welcome to Japan is probably the coolest song since Meet Me in the Bathroom. What do people want? The Strokes have now become the Velvet Underground, severely underrated in a time of severely weak music. RCA failed. The Strokes held up their end by putting out another LP full of good songs. This is the type of music that can make your day better. It is rock at its purist-raw energy. The Strokes don’t bitch, moan or whine. They rock. If you want to hear a musician whine buy an Arcade Fire LP and recognize that you are a loser.

208 MK-ultra May 3, 2013 at 1:24 am

The strokes are devolving to me…. they started out with their best stuff and have continued to sound more and more amateur the more the other band members have input.

So far the best albums are Is This It and Phrazes… because it’s when Julian was doing everything and didn’t feel guilty about it. I wish the other guys would grow up and realize this….

209 Malaysian guy May 30, 2013 at 11:51 am

As far as i know them…they never let me down….most of their song give me a reason to carry on…most people diss them…but, god know how much i miss them…..keep rockin my superhero!

210 Nailah July 7, 2013 at 12:26 am

I’m glad The Strokes are takin a leap of faith, and progressing in different styles. Although, I’ll admit “Room On Fire” was, ah brilliant. “Angels” has that creative input that screamed we need to evolve as a group, yet not executed correctly; some catchy song, but not memorable. I can’t wait to see what this album holds.
Julian play on words is extraordinary, so even if The Strokes doesn’t pan out, I think he’ll always be in the music business; maybe as a ghostwriter. Who knows. But, he is very talented; for that I could never speak ill about The Strokes.

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