It would be easy to assume that the title was referencing its members’ well-documented chemical indulgences, but it seems that the New Yorkers’ fifth record’s name refers to an altogether different detoxification; a step away from their status as the 21st Century’s first and, so far, best rock band. From the expectations, from the pressure, and from the spectre of their glorious debut album, which has arguably kept them locked into trying to be the band they were between 2001 and 2003. Comedown Machine doesn’t sound like it was made by the Strokes, or at least not “the Strokes” that a generation have kept unchanged in their heads. Not that I didn’t enjoy First Impressions of Earth or appreciate Angles – but this is the Strokes record which we’ve been waiting the last decade for.
The first half is a tour-de-force, kicking off with the instantly accessible and joyously catchy ‘Tap Out’, which I doubt I’ve had even recognized as a Strokes track if I hadn’t been forewarned. The titular ‘80s Comedown Machine’ (perhaps my deep title analysis wasn’t as revealing as I first thought) has a positively Zeppelin-esque riff towering over its intro, before it plunges into the extreme processed vocals of the earliest Strokes demos, and a scuzzier, punkier song than anything they’ve released since Is This It. Best of all is the colossal, disco-driven ‘Welcome To Japan’, comprising old-style Strokes staccato guitars, a hefty Elvis Costello influence, and the kind of slick insistence that Julian Casablancas did so well on ‘Little Girl’, his Sparklehorse collaboration; “I didn’t really notice, I didn’t know the gun was loaded – what kind of asshole drives a Lotus?”. Contrast soon comes, with ‘All The Time’, unmistakably pure, classic original Strokes; all angular guitars and punchy, garage rock. Well, they had to throw a bone to everyone who wishes it was still the turn of the millennium.
Whilst the second half subsides slightly, it’s not dismissible. Slightly harder to get into, but still showcasing the band’s progression into unchartered territory, it makes for interesting listening. Both ’50 50’ and ‘Slow Animals’ are in the same vein as First Impressions, with glossy, processed guitars and echoey percussion and the latter boasting a brilliantly hooky chorus. Next, jittery vibrato guitars and unusually restrained Strokes on the funky ‘Partners in Crimes’, before a crunching QOTSA style riff crashes into ‘Chances’, overlaid with a Casablancas falsetto. Finally comes track-come-coda ‘Call It Fate Call It Karma’, a pretty piano-led piece, with both a classical and a Motown edge to it. It’s a final shock, a final end to the endless “old Strokes” carping that Casablancas recently bemoaned on Twitter.
It seems that the for-so-long lost boys are back in the game, back in the gang, but with no desire to rehash past glories. Comedown Machine, like an oxymoronic greatest hits of new releases, brings together the best of the Strokes’ back catalogue, whilst giving them a solid 2013 twist. The garage perfection of Is This It and Room on Fire, the processed sound of First Impressions, the tropical lilt of Angles; it’s all there, along with ideas we’ve never heard before.