The Radio Cure
Where Music Makes Friends

New Music Monday

March 25, 2013

Let’s Talk About The Strokes…


Remember when The Strokes were the ultimate cool? Remember when they basically personified the very essence of “hip?” Leather jackets, Converse kicks, smoldering cigs…they looked like they hadn’t slept in years because they were just way too busy being ultra legit sumbitches. And, oh yeah, there were those first couple virtually flawless albums of stripped down, no-nonsense throwback rock n’ roll goodness. The Strokes kind of started a cultural revolution. If you think about it, in many ways they were basically the Nirvana of the new millenium, minus the album sales. Don’t even try to debate that comparison. Just think about it long and hard, and you’ll see the logic is perfectly sound.

Well, The Strokes officially drop their 5th album tomorrow, titled Comedown Machine. It’s been streaming via Pitchfork here, so check that out while you can, or just go grab your own on the marrow. I don’t really want to go into reviewing the album per se, but let me just put it out there that I adore The Strokes and think this record is very solid. Probably their most consistently good release since Room On Fire. I’ve been feasting on a healthy helping of this album with the occasional side dish of all albums previous this weekend, and it got me thinking about the band and how they have been somewhat unfairly panned for much of the last decade. My purpose here is to think out loud, and let you know why I think the new album (and the rest of their catalog) is totally worth your attention in the grand scheme of things.

Is This It and Room On Fire

Let’s be completely honest and objective here: these guys really haven’t released a “bad” album. I truly believe that. And if we’re being even MORE honest… those first couple (as amazing as they are) have been put up on such a rediculous pedestal because of their cultural impact, the others were automatically doomed by comparison. The problem is, how in the world does one follow up an entrance like the double-whammy of Is This It and Room On Fire? Not many bands pull it off, very few in fact. For The Strokes, it was impossible. Media, and an increasingly fickle audience made sure of that. Room On Fire is where it started. Many people (including myself) hail this to be the pinnacle of Strokedom. An album that perfected what the debut started. But many others trashed it as a carbon copy of Is This It, as if making a second album of brilliant retro-rock was a bad thing. At any rate, after that, the band started trying new things. Whether or not it was a direct response to the backlash is irrelevent, because in this band’s case it was a lose/lose situation. The hype machine had made its mark.

FIOE and Angles

It was more than the music though. Among the imperfections of third album First Impressions of Earth, the band had noticeably lost some of that inherent swagger that radiated off of the first two LP’s. Maybe the slight downgrade in attitude was intentional, but I tend to think it stemmed from a lack of confidence under the enormous pressure. The swagger was gone, and the band had finally released an imperfect product. All of a sudden these guys were no longer the landmark of cool they once were, and that’s really what they’ve been fighting against ever since . Angles had a similar problem, only this time they also experiemented with some new sounds to varying degrees. Where before they seemed to be efforlessly cool, now they seemed to be trying really hard, and it’s not as fun watching someone TRYING to be that cool.

But, I’ll say it again…these were not “bad” albums! Are they as good? Of course not. But they also had the incredible misfortune of following up some of the most over-hyped records of a generation. More than that, they were the coolest dudes in the world from far away but after some time under the microscope of celebrity were found to be pretty average. And people don’t want their super heroes to be average. Average heroes can’t get away with releasing anything less than perfect when the bar is set so high. That’s why a couple of B+ albums looked like F’s to a lot of people. I personally love the hell out of FIOE. Cut out the two or three duds on that album, and it’s every bit as good (maybe better??) than those first two. Angles took a bit longer to grow on me, but after the initial shock of not getting an album full of Under Cover of Darkness tracks I’ve learned to really enjoy it, especially when put next to their newest album. I haven’t even gone into the various side projects of the band members, but there are interesting lines that can be drawn to those as well.

Comedown Machine

Which brings us to Comedown Machine. One reason this album works in the context of how we view The Strokes is because, while they haven’t regained their heyday hip, for the first time the band seems ok with that. They are comfortable with their place, and are confident in exploring their new muse. The result is a consistent record of low key burners, funky grooves, and New Wave falsetto. It’s a different direction, but if YOU can be ok with that, a very enjoyable one. So take a good listen to this new one with some perspective, then go back and revisit those two that maybe you thought weren’t so great. Maybe you’ll find that they’ve actually been pretty cool all along.

About the Author