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Album: The Strokes – Comedown Machine

The fifth studio effort from the fractious five-piece is their most promising in years

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Released: 25th March 2013

RCA Records

By all accounts, the recording of Comedown Machine, the fifth album from New York City’s The Strokes, was an altogether more good-natured affair than that of its predecessor, Angles. For a start, frontman Julian Casablancas was actually there, electing this time round to record his parts in person with the band rather than submit them via email. The effect this had on the end product is difficult to say.  Like Angles, most of this record’s charm is injected by the influence of ‘80s pop, also evident on Casablancas’ solo album; his and his band’s embracing of the cheesier side of things is uncharacteristically un-self-conscious, and a pleasant surprise which has characterized their recent musical evolution. The decision to herald the arrival of their new record with something which echoes A-ha’s ‘Take on Me’ quite so unashamedly as ‘One Way Trigger’ does is reflective of this – but this is joyous homage, not sneaky plagiarism, and even Casbalancas’ worst Morten Harket impression can’t help but draw a smile.

In fact, from the first, this record gives us a band sounding as joyous as they have since 2003’s Room on Fire. Opener ‘Tap Out’ slinks along atop eminently danceable guitar patterns, unexpectedly disco-y in a way which rears its head again on the endearingly tacky ‘Welcome to Japan’, but always bound together by Fabrizio Moretti’s ever-present, airlock-tight percussion. Casablancas’ vocals are not quite as low in the mix as on past albums, and, on ‘One Way Trigger’ as on the whole album, are remarkably less restrained than ever before – carefree in a way which, by the time you get to music hall-esque closer ‘Call it Fate, Call it Karma’, it becomes clear has grabbed the whole band.

In short, Comedown Machine might just be the sound of The Strokes – whisper it – enjoying themselves. There are those who, probably unfairly, have never forgiven them for failing to chase the dizzying dragon that was their 2001 debut Is This It. And, predictably, Comedown Machine probably won’t be thought of as scaling those heights. Pessimistic fans might like to note that, having lain dormant for five years following their third album in 2006, the band have made quick work of releasing their latest two – which represent their final commitments to their record deal. But if this were to be their last record, The Strokes have proven themselves more than worthy holders of the flag passed down by the likes of fellow New Yorkers the Velvet Underground and the Cars, and remain the sole purveyors of a certain dysfunctional charm which rock music is otherwise severely lacking – even if they have to try a little harder for it these days.