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Review: The Strokes slide through 'The Comedown Machine'

The new album is a bit new wave, a bit DFA-style dance rock, but mostly, the sound idles.

March 25, 2013|By Randall Roberts
  • The CD cover for "Comedown Machine, by the Strokes.
The CD cover for "Comedown Machine, by the Strokes. (RCA )

The Strokes

"The Comedown Machine"

RCA Records

1 star

One of the key axioms of the acting trade is to never seem desperate for a role. To be a hot commodity, behave like you couldn't care less; those who appear to need a job are at a disadvantage. "The Comedown Machine," the fifth album by New York band the Strokes, exudes nervousness; you can almost see beads of sweat forming on the band's foreheads as it works, and fails, to stay relevant while tossing off harmless 1980s-style ditties.

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The sonic equivalent of a lawn mower idling in a driveway, "The Comedown Machine" is a baffling invention, one that expels a lot of energy to no discernible end. It shows a band wondering on its place in the music world and coming up blank.

The record suggests new wave and touches on DFA-style dance rock, both sounds the Strokes already fiddled with on their previous record, "Angles," without any sense of urgency. This one might have a little more echo and texture, but these traits aren't enough.

If the group's stellar debut, "Is This It?," conjured the insistent CBGBs punk of 1976, "The Comedown Machine" suggests the watered-down, corporatized new wave of Haircut One Hundred.

As usual, vocalist Julian Casablancas buries his voice deep in the songs, as if to remove emotion while failing to mask his stylistic weaknesses. "Chances" sounds like an outtake from "The Breakfast Club" soundtrack. Even the album's best track, "Call It Fate, Call It Karma," falters, mostly due to Casablancas' inability to deliver a convincing vocal to accompany the smoky-lounge vibe of the song.

Maybe the Strokes just got lucky with their first record, because 12 years is a long time to not succeed at equaling its promise. Or maybe the band made a deal: One excellent, influential record in exchange for a long stint on the letdown machine. Either way, "The Comedown Machine" is a drag.

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