The Strokes’ Comedown Machine Falls Short of Cohesiveness

Emma Dahl

Illustration by Asa Mease
Illustration by Asa Mease

The Strokes, one of the greatest modern post-punk bands (in this reporter’s humble opinion), is a group that has a clear evolutionary arc in its style; beginning with the debut album Is This It, The Strokes’ sound was beautifully unassuming.

The instrumentation of their first album was simple, just what you’d find in a typical punky garage jam session. The melodies were clean and uncomplicated. Through consecutive releases, the band’s sound grew and evolved and fluctuated from there, turning a little more electronic perhaps, and complicating song structure a little here and there.

This process of change is a natural development any music-making group has to go through if they want to keep making interesting music. I have to give them credit, though; The Strokes always manage to retain the critical elements of their music that made their debut album so good: quick tempos, fun guitar riffs and catchy drum beats, and Julian Casablancas’ perfect crooning voice singing great, angsty lyrics.

So when I started to listen to their new release, Comedown Machine, I was excited to see what direction The Strokes were headed nowadays. Would they be a little more pop-ish? Would they return to their simpler roots?

However, the first time I listened to the album, I was a little confused. Normally, I think an LP should have a kind of traceable arc among its tracks; the songs should be connected by a common theme, or style, or story or whatever. That’s what makes albums such a pleasure to listen to as a whole; the album as a collection of music is an experience, besides the joy of listening to individual songs.

That was not the case with Comedown Machine. Every other song felt like it was pulled from one of The Strokes’ older albums. For example, “All the Time” seems to belong to Room on Fire, and “One Way Trigger” is straight out of Angles. The most baffling track is “Call it Fate, Call it Karma,” which sounds so much like a Little Joy song (a side project of drummer Fabrizio Moretti’s) that when it came on, I actually thought Spotify had randomly ditched The Strokes and started playing Little Joy instead.

So I think the word that best describes Comedown Machine is “disjointed.” It’s difficult to understand what the band was trying to do with it, what direction they were trying to go with their sound. The LP gets lost in its diversity; the tracks aren’t cohesive with each other at all.

All this being said, though, it’s still a solid release, and a lot of the songs are really good on their own. “Welcome to Japan” is a great track, as well as “All the Time.” Like I said, The Strokes didn’t lose their essential elements, and their music is still great. But considering the album as a whole, The Strokes may have been just too unfocused on this one.