The opening bars of ‘Tap Out’ from the fifth full-length by New York City indie superstars The Strokes throw a unmistakable curveball at the listener – unmistakable in the signature fundamentals that ensure this album is nothing but The Strokes, yet revealing the curveball through the tantalisingly new pop sensibilities. Opting to almost completely remove the rockier elements from their sound in favour of breezy guitars and distinctively gentle vocal delivery, ‘Tap Out’ proves a defining example for the remainder of the album.
Some may argue that The Strokes have always been masters of commercial compositions; take for example the indie anthems ‘Last Night’ or ‘Reptilia’ which build gritty vocals over enticing hooks. Where their previous album ‘Angels’ saw them further develop their pop elements (albeit with a lack of longevity), ‘Comedown Machine’ delivers their most blatant pop record to date, and rather surprisingly their most inaccessible.
Fortunately accessibility in this sense is largely overrated. Lead single ‘All The Time’ and ’50 50’ lean the closest to The Strokes sound fans may expect, yet where the band experiment with the 80s vibe which lends itself to the name of the title track of sorts they create intrigue in their inaccessibility. Often the quirks lead to their sheer brilliance.
‘One Way Trigger’ sees Casablancas take to the falsetto notes, perhaps inspired by the likes of A-Ha. On the aforementioned ‘Tap Out’ and ‘Slow Animals’ they adopt a sound seemingly acquired from the same school as the seminal Phoenix. With ‘Welcome To Japan’ they well and truly let the cat out of the bag with their experimental pop guitars and unpredictable song structure.
‘Comedown Machine’ retains the sounds that should appease long-term fans of the band, but places these in the midst of brave and unusual experimentation. The album is filled with a higher proportion of unconventional tracks that despite their initial inaccessibility end up far more gratifying than those which populated their previous effort. Rather than reminiscing about the likes of ‘Is This It’ and ‘Room on Fire’, ‘Comedown Machine’ takes The Strokes into exciting uncharted territory – one that retains their competency for a catchy melody.
Reviewer: Ben Tipple