The Strokes stay synthy on ‘Comedown Machine’

Kate Clark

Were you fully aware that The Strokes have continued to release albums post-2003?

Save for a handful tracks like “You Only Live Once” or “Under the Cover of Darkness,” the newer portion their catalogue is routinely ignored. Even the band’s own live setlists turn a blind eye to most of the songs released in the past decade.

Following the eras of “Is This It” and “Room on Fire,” the Strokes made their synthy descent into ’80s pop nostalgia. Their latest release, “Comedown Machine,” released on Tuesday, March 26, hits in stride.

While “Comedown” doesn’t approach the ’80s love quite to the extent lead vocalist and composer Julian Casablancas’ managed in his solo album “Phrazes for the Young,” it does come close as tracks “All the Time” and “50/50” are the only ones to capture the old Strokes love of stripped-down sound.

The band consists of friends Casablancas made in Manhattan private schools: guitarist Nick Valensi, drummer Fab Moretti, bassist Nikolai Fraiture and guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., who he met while attending a Swiss boarding school.

Their debut “Is This It” was released in 2001. The album peaked at No. 33 in the U.S. Billboards and at No. 2 in the U.K. The American release varied slightly from its international counterpart in terms of artwork (the profile of naked women was switched to a close up of particle collisions to avoid controversy) and the removal of the track “New York City Cops” in light of 9/11.

Critics lauded the album. It has appeared in the “Rolling Stone” 500 Greatest Albums of All Time at number 199 and British publication NME ranked it at number one in their 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade.

Their second album, “Room on Fire” (2003) fared better than most sophomore attempts by finding safety in familiarity. It wasn’t until consecutive albums “First Impressions of Earth” (2006) and “Angles” (2011) that the band began regressing through the decades.

“Comedown Machine,” which some fans believe is the Strokes final release due to its cryptic title, opens with “Tap Out.” This is the first occurrence of Casablancas new singing method. While he usually sounds like he doesn’t want to move his mouth in a way that would correctly form words, the breathy falsetto mumbling takes it to a new extreme.

It shows up in “One Way Trigger,” “Slow Animals,” “Happy Endings” and then horrifyingly so in the album’s finale. In fact, the whisper falsetto might be the one truly new idea the band brought to the record, as sad as that is.

The track “All the Time” harkens back to their old style — the listener doesn’t even need the visual aid of concert highlights and candids that is the official music video to be brought back to the band’s younger days.

The peppy “Welcome to Japan” offers the soon to be over quoted question, “What kind *sshole drives a Lotus?” Not Casablancas — he drives a ’92 Cutlass.

“50/50” and “Partners in Crime” both spark with an upbeat energy that saves the album from being lost to tracks like “’80s Comedown Machine,” which placed between “Japan” and “50/50” does nothing but stall the album to an almost complete standstill.

Then there is the unredeemable “Call it Fate, Call it Karma,” which at the record’s end acts as a black hole, dragging the listener into confusion.

Whether or not you like the record is subjective. If you’re familiar with the band and are one of those people who hate when groups change their sound, avoid it. However, for all its cringe-worthy moments, “Comedown” does have some stellar songs that should not be missed.