Comedown Machine is the fifth studio album released by The Strokes, and the third I have purchased. When The Strokes released their critically acclaimed first album titled Is This It in 2001, I missed it. In fact, I still have not heard it. Why? Because…well, I don’t really have a good answer for that question. In fact, it’s pretty much a musical anomaly that I would even be interested in The Strokes given that: a. I was not allowed to listen to any type of music other than gospel music when I was a kid, and b. when I finally did begin to listen to secular music, I was drawn to r&b and hip-hop. Later, I got interested in the sampled music that rappers and singers were incorporating into their music, which lead me to caches of jazz and soul catalogues. Put quite simply, I had yet to cultivate an ear for rock music by the beginning of the last decade.
Sometime in 2003, a feeling of restlessness overcame me. Every time I went into a music store to rummage through vinyl crates and CD bins, I found myself repeating the mantra encapsulated in The Strokes’ debut album title: “Is this it?” I needed to get out of the monotony of listening to the same music over and over again. So I turned to MTV and started paying attention to all of the videos that, before, I would have normally dismissed with the click of a remote either because the artist didn’t look like me, or wasn’t rapping/singing over a melodic, hypnotic head-nod commanding beat. Yes that’s right, I started watching rock videos.
One day, during my strange journey through all things contemporary rock, a band managed to catch my attention. Here were these 5 guys, with this sort of nonchalant attitude that said “we’re cool without trying to be cool.” The lead singer’s voice was equally reserved, collected and placid. Their name was The Strokes and their latest album was titled Room on Fire. I went out and bought it. The rest is history. Well, sort of.
After skipping out on 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, I caught up again with The Strokes in 2011 for their fourth album Angles, a delightful patchwork of upbeat, and mid-tempo songs that are rock at the core, but with elements of soul (and I guess what could be considered techno) slightly detectable below the surface.
Comedown Machine pushes back against the pervasive pressure applied to artists, by management and fans alike, to churn out spotless melodious widgets. The second song on the album titled All The Time, is capped off with 30 seconds of pianissimo intermittent guitar strokes and background noise. At 3 minutes and 28 seconds into the accordion parodied effect and distorted break infused song 80s Comedown Machine, fidgety rustlings of what could be door keys or coins piled in an ashtray bleed through the recording for a full 25 seconds. After 4 minutes and 5 seconds into Slow Animals, the song concludes with an explosion from a geyser of guffaws. Were The strokes prematurely laughing at their critics, (most of whom wrote less than favorable reviews of this album) or just having a blast making music? Either way, this worked for me.
Julian Casablancas’ creamy falsetto on One Way Trigger succeeds with bursts of 3 syllable exhortations:
Find a job
Find a friend
Find a home
Find a dog
Out of town
Find a dream
Shut it down
He then goes on to curiously ask “What kind of asshole drives a Lotus?” in the Nikolai Fraiture bouncy bass line driven Welcome To Japan. Casablancas’ questioning of societal practices always seems to sneak up on you, when you least expect it, like on the last song on Angles titled Life Is Simple In The Moonlight when he sings:
Making fools out of the best of us
Making robots of the rest of us
Innocence itself in America today
Is a crime just like Cornel West would say
On Call It Fate, Call It Karma, Casablancas’ falsetto returns as an echo of Billie Holiday’s shrill, haunting vibrato that sort of dangled off the edge of a cliff until it succumbed to the next measure, when he asks, “Can I waste all your time here on the sidewalk?”.
On the self assured song 50/50 Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr. compliment each other with searing, steadfast guitar riffs. And drummer Fab Moretti’s rolling tom-tom work on Partners In Crime heralds a midi-like background vocal overlay like a medieval ambassador would a wizard. Prepare to be enchanted!
When you open the CD booklet for Comedown Machine, don’t expect credits or lyrics. Instead, all that is printed are the silhouettes of the 5 band members against a red backdrop. In the internet age, you can always go online to get lyrics. Hell, you can go online and get the music. But then you miss out on some of the creativity that the artists wish to pass on to you by hand. The personality of Comedown Machine retains the same attractiveness as The Strokes possessed when I first encountered them in 2003. Their music hasn’t changed, but it has grown. In fact, taking Comedown Machine into consideration, perhaps the proper word is flourished.