Street Sounds: Strokes remain aloof on fifth album

The Strokes’ new album Comedown Machine is brief, a bit weird, not hip, and over before you know it. It’s the sound of “who cares.”

The Strokes have released their fifth album

The Strokes have released their fifth album

Ever ironic and detached, NYC rockers, The Strokes’ new album, Comedown Machine, sports an overly prominent RCA logo on its cover that dwarfs the band name and record title.

The vintage label is catchy and retro-chic like the group itself. There’s a lack of information within and silhouetted head shots reveal the five-piece band have become a six piece. That’s it and that’s nice; no lengthy lists, credits or thank yous to waste time with.

Comedown Machine is The Strokes’ fifth album and for those who’ve listened to the band lately, it follows the sound they explored on Angles, their previous release.

The guitar-centric grind of their first record is heavily enhanced with keys and effects. The production is clear and poppy, in an early ‘80s New Wave style.

The simple guitar drive of earlier years has become kaleidoscopic and swirly. They’ve entered into a zone of New Wave psychedelia and while this lacks the punch of Last Nite and other early material, it’s creative and weirdly original.

But wait, there’s some nice, clean raunch that bursts through in Welcome to Japan and 50/50. These are also punk-era nuggets but they’re weighted with guitar drive that crackles.

Vocalist Julian Casablancas manages to bring large doses of character and personality to usually non-committed performances. Surprises surface on Chances. He goes falsetto before slacking off. It works, somehow, giving the songs the pull that grabs the ears.

Tracks like Blow Animals have a transient identity. They’re short blasts of melody set against wandering sounds and strong chord patterns. They’re experimental and evocative and move dangerously close to art rock.

Being The Strokes, it has the catch. The best thing about Comedown Machine is that there’s no bring down.

You get 11 songs that careen around with beat and riff-driven electronic hooks without breaking a sweat. It’s brief, a bit weird, not hip, and over before you know it. It’s the sound of “who cares.”

Dean Gordon-Smith is a musician and freelance reviewer whose column, Street Sounds, appears in The Morning Star every Friday.