Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Album review: THE STROKES - Comedown Machine

Highlights: Tap Out, Welcome To Japan, 50/50, Happy Ending, Call It Fate Call It Karma

Hype is never free. Everyone knew (though probably not in 2001) that there would be a price, but no one could quite figure out that the price would be so inexplicably, so ridiculously high. When I first listened to The Strokes’ acclaimed (and that’s a mild word) debut, I naturally put that inescapable question mark after the title statement. Presently, however, I see no point in fighting against it. The amount of flak Comedown Machine is getting is truly staggering. Because, and I want to stress my point again and again, these songs are not in any way worse than the ones that made up Is This It.

Interestingly, for me Comedown Machine does what that patchwork-cum-album, Angles, failed to do: show diversity, show that they are no longer stuck in their all-too-successful past, and remain coherent. Angles wasn’t a bad record (for instance, “Under Cover Of Darkness” and “Taken For A Fool” were brilliant songs), but it was all over the place and made little sense. Now I won’t deny that Comedown Machine is all over the place, too, but I would insist that musically it makes perfect sense.

Because the songs are so good. I won’t be getting into lyrics (though I would admit that “Welcome To Japan” has some interesting stuff going on), but it’s astonishing how much songwriting craft went into this record. Vocally and instrumentally, it’s a barrage of terrific hooks piled on top of each other. The aforementioned “Welcome To Japan” is case in point. From its intricate guitars to its instantly memorable melodies (that has to be plural) to Casablancas’ ludicrous yet fascinating ‘welcome to Japan’ line in the middle of the song, it’s all infectious, delicious fun. So is the opening “Tap Out” and so is most of this fine album. Very lush sound, great production, and lots of sonic variety; Phrazes For The Young with restraint and as played by The Strokes. I still don’t know what to think of Julian’s falsetto in the obviously A-ha-esque single “One Way Trigger”, but everything else certainly works.

I guess the bottom line here would be that they are just great songwriters. They really are. So – no, this is not an awful album. Awful is what the hype-prone world has done to them. And, funnily enough, nothing seems to bother this world more than the closing song on Comedown Machine, the faux-retro “Call It Fate Call It Karma”. It’s actually a lovely, exquisite piece gently oozing out of your local late-night 50s radio station. It really is a perfect end to this masterful indie pop album you could probably dance to.


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