The Strokes - Comedown Machine
"I can live with the despair. It's the hope I can't stand". John Cleese probably didn't have the release of The Strokes' fifth album in mind when he said these words in 1986, but that doesn't make them any less applicable to the situation.
Ever since the success of their cherished debut Is This It? in 2001 and its not-quite-as-good-but-still-pretty-bloody-good follow up Room On Fire two years later, each subsequent Strokes album has stirred similar emotions upon its release. You know, the initial trepidation at the prospect of them tarnishing their reputation forever is swiftly followed by the giddy realisation that there's no explicit reason that states it can't be as good as Is This It?, and finally the deflation after barely one full listen.
This time, the build-up routine was altered by the lack of publicity surrounding the release; no new interviews, no new press shots. This could've been viewed as a sign of apathy and detachment, or of a band solely focussed on what was important. Expectation was lower than ever before, the pressure off; if not now then when? My chest tightened with excitement. The hope was back. This Was It.
It turns out, once again, that This Wasn't It. But, Comedown Machine is still an album of merit. Opener 'Tap Out' fails to light any blue touch paper, but it doesn't appear to be trying to. A relaxed subtlety permeates throughout, aided by Julian Casablancas's light and dreamy delivery. It leads nicely into 'All The Time', where catchy, clean riffs are layered over the raw energy of Fab Moretti's drum beat. It's instantly recognisable as classic Strokes, the only snag being the absence of a stomping chorus to rival 'Last Nite' or 'Reptilia'.
The promising start begins to unravel on 'One Way Trigger', a fiddly synth number that smacks of a band blindly scuttling in a new direction they're clearly not suited to. Casablancas probably lead the charge for it sounds like something left over from his 2009 solo album Phrazes for the Young. Or a Super Mario video game. Thankfully next track 'Welcome to Japan' aborts this route in favour of one that's richer, groovier and basically much more fun, but this is swiftly curtailed as well.
The album eventually settles into a groove but it's all a bit tame and polite. Solid but forgettable tracks like 'Chances' and 'Happy Ending' serve as weight to the suggestions that Comedown was bashed out merely to fulfil the 5-album deal signed with RCA records 15 years ago. But as Casablancas hints on final track 'Call It Fate, Call It Karma' - 'Close the door/Not all the way', perhaps the freeing of the RCA shackles might not signal the end of The Strokes, but instead catalyse an artistic rejuvenation?
And so, the dreaded hope returns.