The Strokes, 'Comedown Machine': Track-By-Track Review

68 Billboard Rating

When the Strokes released "Angles" in 2011, Julian Casablancas and his loyal subjects -- er, band mates -- were officially in comeback mode. The return-to-form LP did what it had to do -- prove the one-time saviors of rock 'n roll could still rock, even as thirtysomething adults. Casablancas, known as a do-it-all control freak (who previously went as far as to write the Strokes' baselines) even loosened up a bit, with the band's other four members grabbing writing credits on almost every song. Lead single "Under Cover of Darkness" had four Strokes -- more than any other Strokes song up to that point -- involved in the writing process, and it turned out to be the album's clear standout.

Two years later, the Strokes are back with "Comedown Machine," recorded in their old New York stomping grounds at the legendary Electric Lady studio. The whole quintet was on hand for the process, a stark contrast to "Angles," when Casablancas often shared ideas with the rest of the band via e-mail. Likewise, there are an awful lot of ideas swimming through "Comedown's" 11 tracks -- some familiar, others (like Casablancas' new fascination with falsetto) not so familiar.

Now that Casablancas -- along with guitarists Albert Hammond, Jr. and Nick Valensi, bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti -- are all in the same studio together, what do the Strokes have up their raggedy denim sleeves? Billboard takes a track-by-track look at the new album to find out.

1. Tap Out - Although the coolness factor may come and go, the Strokes' proficiency with their instruments never seems to waver. This is especially evident on the album's opening track, which showcases well-crafted, stop/start interplay between the guitar and bass against high-register vocals from Casablancas.

2. All the Time

With all its falsetto vocals and attention to atmosphere, much of "Comedown Machine" isn't exactly classic Strokes. But "All the Time" most assuredly is: it's a three-minute rocker that sits comfortably in the band's garage wheelhouse. Its Strokes-iest moment is its chorus, which features Casablancas crying repeatedly, "You're living a lie, you're living too fast!"

3. One Way Trigger

The first "Comedown" track to reach the public isn't far off from Casablancas' 2009 solo album "Phrazes For the Young," with its slick studio treatment and nods to 80s new wave. Will Julian be able to pull off its high-register vocal riffs outside the studio? We'll have to wait and see on tour.

4. Welcome to Japan - Here's another Strokes-y song that will fit nicely into the band's live repertoire."Welcome to Japan" sounds like it could have been used into 2003's "Room On Fire" with its radio-ready, angular rock groove. Guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr. have plenty of interesting ideas to trade here, as Casablancas muses, "What kind of asshole drives a Lotus?"

5. 80's Comedown Machine - This placid track tries to be what the Strokes seldom are: atmospheric. One can applaud the band for toying with ideas outside of its comfort zone, and in the context of the album it's a decent, er, "comedown" from the rocking "Welcome to Japan." But this one doesn't succeed much outside of serving as a mid-album interlude.

6. 50 50 - Had the Strokes led "Comedown Machine" with this barnburner, a lot of people would have been saying, "The Strokes are back."  Casablancas sings like he just woke up with a hangover, and the "Is This It"-style vocal effects sound right at home with the driving, no-nonsense guitars.

7. Slow Animals - Like "One Way Trigger" and "80's Comedown Machine," "Slow Animals" is a track that would have sounded out of place on every previous Strokes album. The track features some restrained, understated verses, with Casablancas back to trying some higher, softer vocal octaves.

8. Partners in Crime - This rather unsuspecting album cut doesn't scream "single," but it's a winner nonetheless. After opening with with an engaging little guitar intro, "Partners in Crime" slickly adds other nuances over its guiding rhythm section.

9. Chances - "I'll take my chances on my own," laments Casablancas on this contemplative breakup song, while once again testing the gentler side of his vocals. A song like this isn't going to reinvent the Strokes, but at track nine, it's a decent break from the norm.

10. Happy Ending - At this point in its track listing, "Comedown Machine" could have benefited from one more high-energy rock song amongst a stretch of more delicate, nuanced tracks. Still, "Happy Ending" is worth a few extra listens. The influence of 80s production comes on strong with "Happy Ending," where the Strokes' guitar licks are warped to sound more like synthesizer bleeps.

11. Call It Fate Call it Karma - For better or (probably) worse, the album's closer sounds quite unlike anything they've released to date. Call it bold, call it awkward -- this one's a muffled rainy day ode that will probably have a lot of listeners stopping at track ten.

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