About a minute into opener “Tap Out,” right around the time its Bad-era MJ groove morphs into a chorus that must have been lifted from some lost Psychedelic Furs B-side, it’s fair to wonder what the hell is going on with the Strokes’ latest album. The quintet isn’t done, though: check the Duran Duran guitar line anchoring “Welcome to Japan,” the Vampire Weekend aping chamber pop on “80s Comedown Machine,” or how “One Way Trigger” manages to cleverly rework A-ha’s “Take On Me.” In fact, the one band they rarely manage to sound like is the Strokes.
Alright, that may be overstating things a tad. Comedown features a handful of tracks that could fit comfortably on their last release, 2011’s Angles. But that was a record detrimentally hampered by its comeback album expectations and the overriding sense that its makers were simply going through the motions. By contrast, Comedown feels liberated, the product of a band that has come to terms with their legacy and resolved to not give a fuck about it. Even its title seems self-referential — a means of deflating their mythos by deconstructing the idea of what the Strokes are supposed to be.
Mostly they do this with the music, which boldly skews from dynamic proto-punk, British dance-rock, breezy ballads, and slick synth-heavy pop on a song-by-song basis. Those who paid attention to the Strokes’ solo records shouldn’t be too thrown off by these stylistic shifts. The ’80s electro and falsetto fascination of Julian Casablancas’s Phrazes for the Young is all over the place, as is the sun-baked folk of Fabrizio Moretti’s Little Joy project, and the jangly pop of Albert Hammond Jr.’s handful of records. But how well they manage to piece it all together is Comedown’s triumph. They don’t get the formula right every time, but at worst songs like “All the Time” and “Slow Animals” are forgettable rather than grating.
For many who have followed the band for over a decade, Comedown Machine as a term describes as well as any their slow creative slide since Is This It? As an album title, it not only serves as a cheeky acknowledgement of this trend, but as an ironically definitive statement that the slide is now over. Comedown is clearly their best since Room on Fire, and strong proof that this isn’t it yet for the Strokes.