Although Comedown Machine is already the 5th full-length album by this relatively successful New York City based quintet, I have to admit that it's the first time I consciously heard the band's music. The experience, I daresay was a slight disappointment at first, the music not being quite what I had expected. I mean, for a band cited as one of the Indie Rock US bands from the 21st millennium to be at the basis of the revival movement of the Garage Rock scene, I certainly expected a different type of vocals (as displayed in about half of the songs), and not so many Pop elements! But that...may all be part of the evolution of the band, so let's look at its history, shall we?
The current band members go to know each other well before they started The Strokes, and at fairly young ages too, with lead singer/ songwriter Julian Casablanca playing with drummer Fabrizio Moretti while attending Dwight School in Manhattan. At that time, Julian was already friends with bassist Nicolai Fraiture, whom attended NY's Lycée Français. At age 13, Julian was sent to a Swiss boarding school to improve his academic performances, and while there, he got acquainted with guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., and later, when Albert came to New York to attend university there, he shared an apartment with Julian. They started a band together which, among other places, played at Manhattan's Mercury Lounge. The booker of that place, Ryan Gentles, left his job to become the band's manager! The band (and I have no idea of when second guitarist Nick Valensi entered the picture) started rehearsing a set of 14 songs (most of which currently have different lyrics), and sent a demo to the then newly reformed Rough Trade Records in the UK, who signed the band for the release of its debut EP The Modern Age. Receiving critical acclaim, the EP's release gave cause to one of the fiercest bidding wars among record labels to sign a band, leading to the biggest deal for a Rock 'n' Roll band in years!
RCA eventually won that deal with a five-album contract, the first installment of which was delivered with the October 2001 release of the band's debut full-length Is This It. Critical acclaim was again very positive, and though many noted a strong possible influence from Television, which was denied by the band (who claimed to never have heard of 'em, and having been influenced in stead by The Velvet Underground). Several singles were culled from the album, and the band did quite a few late night show appearances. The band's sophomore album (again recorded with producer Gordon Raphael, after a try-out period with Nigel Godrich – best known for his work with Radiohead) Room On Fire was released in October 2003, and although it met with positive criticism, the sales were slightly less (it still went Gold, though). To make a long story short (details of what followed can be read at the band's Wikipedia page - from which the above info was culled, by the way), the band went on to release its third album First Impressions Of Earth in January 2006 (met with mixed reviews but debuted in the charts on #4 in the US and at #1 in the UK – a first for the band), and in Spring 2007 announced that they would be going on a “much needed break”. That break was partially broken by the band writing new material in January 2009 and starting to record its 4th album with producer Joe Chicarelli in early 2010. Chicarelli was subsequently sacked, and only one song was held from the recording sessions. To complete the album, the band decided to do some experimenting, and record at Albert Hammond Jr.'s home studio with award-winning engineer Gus Oberg. The band returned to the stage on June 9, 2010, for the first time since Oct. 2006, playing a gig (for an audience of a mere 487 people!) under the name of Venison at London's Dingwalls venue. They then went on to play Summer festivals both in the US, The UK, and Europe. The album Angles, which took a long time being mixed and mastered, was eventually released in early 2011.
Work on material for the band's 5th album was started even before the 4th one was released. Part of that was leftover material, but new ideas had already been thrown together, and already in April 2011 the band reported getting together in the studio to try some things out, each member putting in his own to the frames written by Julian and Nick, a method which they had also used on Angles. On January 25, 2013, the band published the song “One Way Trigger” on its website, and made it available for free download. The semi-Disco song was met with mixed reaction by fans of the band. The album's first single, “All The Time” (this, a melodic Garage Rock/ Pop song) was released on February 13, and announced as a return to the band's classic sound of its first two albums. The complete album (which is the fulfillment of the band's deal with RCA) was made available for streaming through pitchfork.com on March 18.
Chart notations? In spite, or rather, In contrast of my personal feelings about the album, it made high positions in charts all over Europe (#1 positions in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden...and it even made #5 in the Flemish and Wallonian charts of Belgium!), Australia (#3), China (#4), Japan (#2), Mexico (#2), New Zealand (#2), and got to #3 in both the UK and US. So, I guess my opinion is just a personal one. I mean, given time I could get used to the effeminate lead and backing vocals on some of the songs (very '80s, and initially first seen in the “Gay Music” scene of those days), you know, and learn to like the album a little more overall. But right now, I simply feel into that (and I'm saying that after having already listened the album 5 or 6 times prior to starting this review, which got it another two spins). If you're already into The Strokes, you will of course already have bought their new album, and formed an opinion of your own. For those readers not familiar with the band, I suggest you first go listen to the songs posted at (www.) thestrokes.com or (www.) myspace.com/thestrokes. Then, perhaps look up the album's page at one of the trusted online sales websites (Amazon, iTunes, etc...) to listen to the 30-seconds samples they usually provide. Alternately, leave home for the closest record store, and ask for a listening session. Me, I'm outta here, and onto another review...