New Strokes album!
I really enjoyed this, although it took some coming around to. Here’s why it’s probably really hard to be the Strokes:
They’ve set expectations impossibly high, pretty much solely because of Is This It. Their debut was one of the coolest things upon its release. It had the perfect amount of lo-fi to still receive its due indie cred, but was still accessible enough that mainstream listeners could come around to it. Also, I’m sure this was a factor for a lot of people, they were just really cool dudes. They wore the hippest rags. They were the underdogs. The material was born not out of necessity or occupation either, they just chose to make this album. Unfortunately, the same probably can’t be said for any of its successors, since they received a 5-album contract off the bat with RCA (which has just expired with the release of Comedown Machine). They’ve said in countless interviews of how painful the recording process has been for each new record. Also, having became a major success promptly after Is This It, they shed their underdog aesthetic pretty quickly. From there, there are really two directions they could’ve gone: “rehash”/develop on their earlier material, or do a complete 180 and alienate a lot of people, as well as risk losing the characteristics that made them uniquely The Strokes (i.e. if First Impressions had come after Is This It, the complete shift from lo-fi to hi-fi would just seem like a grasp at more mainstream attention) Really, the only place they could go in the public eye after Is This It, an album almost unanimously adored, is downhill. There’s this tendency in criticizing artists where every album has to be “better” than the last. This is ridiculous for several reasons: 1) Better is totally and entirely subjective. One could argue that better is just a reaffirmation of their previous skills with a slight lilt in a new direction, which was essentially what Room on Fire was, and that was not received that well critically. 2) Why should every album be better? Does that mean bands have to start at their lowest point? That feels backwards to me, when bands should be rewarded for beginning their careers so strong. Also, this ideas forces bands to limit themselves in progression: if every album has to be better than the last, then they can only develop on where they’ve been before, and not go anywhere truly new or exciting.
I love every Strokes album, and not because each one gets “better” than the last, but because each one represents its own specific and unique catalogue of memories and moods. If I want to hear Angles, nothing else can quite satisfy that, Strokes or otherwise. Same with Is This It, Room on Fire, First Impressions of Earth, and now, Comedown Machine. Each one places me squarely, and vividly, in the times I listened to it before. I’m a whiny little middle school student again every time I put on Is This It, and that includes all of the superfluous whimsy I had back then, too. Sidenote: I actually wasn’t allowed to listen to Barely Legal until a few years later, because of the “not giving an f”. But I did listen to it when my parents weren’t home, and now that secrecy lives on with every listen.
So please, don’t dismiss Comedown Machine on the first listen. Let it grow and cater to all the specific things you’re dealing with right now. Then listen to it again in a few years when you’re longing for the good ol’ Golden Ages (which is the made up name of the time that we’re in right now). Let’s all give a big thank you to the Strokes, too. Thank you, Strokes. Thank you a lot. Keep being the Strokes, please. Alright, see you, the Strokes.