Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Strokes: greater than the sum of their parts

album review

Band: The Strokes
Album: Comedown Machine

Releasing a brilliant album that is hailed as one of the best records of its decade is obviously a massive triumph, but it can also be a bit of a curse. Sure it portrays the artists' talents and proves their musical abilities, but it also leaves them with a slight problem: everything they do from that point on for the rest of their career gets compared to the awesomeness of that massive release, leaving them straining under the weight of their own success.

The Strokes are a prime example of this phenomenon. The rock band's critically acclaimed debut album Is This It was lauded for its raw energy and infectious tunes, and celebrated for the impact it had on the alternative and indie scenes. However, everything they have released since, no matter how good it has been, ends up being evaluated in Is This It's shadow, a comparison that is both tiring and unfair.

To their credit though (and despite whatever frayed internal dynamics they have had to endure over the years), the band doesn't seem to have collapsed under the weight of struggling to match or top their hit album, and has (very wisely) not spent the rest of their career trying to replicate their definitive record. And on their new release, the group members prove that they may have sonically moved on, but they haven't completely lost themselves in the process.

On Comedown Machine, the rockers from New York retain their garage rock flavors while offering some '80s pastiche, weaving new wave and synth pop into their sound. The group's fifth studio release sees them carry on in the direction they took on their previous album, 2011's Angles. The new set feels like a logical follow-up to its predecessor, and also exhibits sonic similarities to Julian Casablancas' solo effort, Phrazes for the Young (2009).

The group's instrumental talents are on display throughout the record. You can still find the vintage Strokes sound on this album on songs like the standout 'All the Time' and the brisk '50/50' which marries Nirvana's grunge with the Ramones' punk. Elsewhere, the synth grooves and throwback vibes take over on tracks like the a-ha reminiscent 'One Way Trigger', the funky 'Tap Out', and the groovy 'Welcome to Japan'. The Strokes make good use of their fondness for exploring different eras and then incorporating them into their own sound, resulting in a contemporary take on familiar vibes from the past. It might take a few listens to fully appreciate the album's many flavors, and opinions may vary about Julian Casablancas' falsetto, plus the slick production may leave you yearning for more edge, but the well-crafted melodies embedded in its track as well as the group's willingness to take chances ultimately make Comedown Machine quite intriguing.

The last decade has been quite a journey for The Strokes, and as Comedown Machine marks the end of their contract with RCA, it also leaves doubt over the group's future; whether they choose to march on or part ways remains to be seen. All we know for now is that their latest record may not be as punchy as their first one was, but it holds its own kind of charm. The Strokes have operated under the shadow of a genre defining record, but their subsequent output shows that they have chosen not to be the victims of their own success. And that is what makes their efforts across their discography immensely enjoyable and an absolute triumph.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 21st April, 2013

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