The Strokes have always been the epitome of cool, but on Comedown Machine, they’ve gotten too cool for their own good. The fifth album from rock and roll’s official New York darlings features an array of tense and sultry tunes, taut webs of guitar and drums that shift tonalities with Julian Casablancas’ trademark ease, but rather than erupt into garage-rock brilliance as is custom, most songs on the album simmer without ever boiling over. The muscular guitars that made fist-pumpers like “You Only Live Once” worthy additions to the modern rock canon are replaced on “Tap Out” and “Welcome to Japan” by brooding layers of guitar fuzz and krautrock spikes that are pleasant enough, and haunting at times, but not quite what you’d hoped for – after hearing Japandroids and Cloud Nothings turn their amps up to 11 and bathe in distortion, it would have been nice for the Strokes to come out guns blazing and prove that they’re still the band that made “Is This It?” and “Room on Fire.” Some of the album does sound like that band, if a somewhat uneven iteration. Lead single “All the Time” is an uptempo romp that would sound great live if the Strokes ever actually toured, and “Happy Ending” is all angled guitars and punchy syncopation, but for the most part, the more familiar sounding songs are uninspired. “50 50” opens with a promising guitar salvo but trips over itself in an attempt to replicate “Is This It?” replete with fuzzed-out vocals and an atomically accurate performance from drummer Fabrizio Moretti.
“We could be in trouble all night,” sings Casablancas on “Chances.” It’s a glum perspective for a frontman whose performances have always managed emotional propulsion without emotional overload, but a perspective fitting an album that’s moodier and more mature than the rest of the Strokes’ catalog, and not in a good way. Comedown Machine isn’t terrible, it’s just disappointing, and from a band as volatile and brilliant as the Strokes, that’s the ultimate letdown.
Top Tracks: “All the Time,” “Tap Out”