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Tuesday, 16 April 2013 15:25

Album review: The Strokes get self-conscious with synthesizers and new wave on 'Comedown Machine'

Album review: The Strokes get self-conscious with synthesizers and new wave on 'Comedown Machine'
Written by Joe Roberts
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The Strokes
"Comedown Machine"
RCA

The Strokes have taken quite the detour since their proto-punk sound of the early 2000s. Where the Strokes once charmed with their simple, lackadaisical garage pop, 2006's "First Impressions of Earth" proved a bizarre and unrewarding attempt at new wave; the band then returned in 2011 with the even odder sounding album, "Angles."

"Comedown Machine" continues in the same pseudo-new wave direction albeit a tad more enjoyable, but also like their previous albums, lacks any singular dynamic song such as "Last Nite" or "12:51."

Now bearing more resemblance to the Cars -- or even A Flock of Seagulls in some cases -- rather than the New York Dolls, they have all but shed their rugged appeal for a slick, pure, new-wave sound. If this sounds unpleasant, it is not always an unsuccessful endeavor; "Tap Out" and "Partners in Crime" are­­­ straight-up Atari-inspired new wave with synthesizers, processed guitars and pensive vocals, and "80s Comedown Machine" is an effective display of the new Strokes sound; however, songs like "One Way Trigger" reveal more questionable aspects, such as possibly the most annoying Nintendo-esque synth riffs of all time, and Julian Casablancas' new choice of vocal technique. Although the music can be interesting enough (if cheesy '80s synth is your thing), it is more often than not overly complicated, superficial and dense.

Casablancas' Lou Reed-inspired croon is all but absent from this album. It pokes up in the more rock-oriented songs on the album like "50 50," one of the punkiest Strokes tracks since "New York City Cops" and the chugging "Partners in Crime," both of which are more than decent. Instead, Casablancas opts to sing in a high-pitched wail, as if doing an ridiculous impression of Chaka Khan. This is present throughout the whole album. But he really lets it rip, for better or worse, on the last few tracks, in particular "Chances" and "Call It Fate, Call It Karma." The former is a surprisingly fun and dramatic ballad in the vein of the Human League or Alphaville. It could be the most off-kilter Strokes song recorded yet; then you hear "Call It Fate Call It Karma." The song sounds like eavesdropping on a female jazz vocalist in the shower, with a spooky jazz-like jingle to it. It's a truly bizarre choice for the Strokes.

People who fell for the Strokes harmonious and buzzing guitars and lazy vocals of "Is This It" and "Room on Fire" will be in awe of tracks such as "Call It Fate, Call It Karma." If the Strokes last two albums haven't grown on you by now, this one, unfortunately, probably won't either. But here's to wishful thinking.

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