The raw, unadulterated cool that oozed from the Strokes’ 2001 debut, Is This It?, wasn’t new — it drew on a pastiche of torn ’70s-punk denim, dead-eyed Velvets stares, and post-everything downtown grime. But it was powerful, and even if you didn’t dig their rewrites of Television tunes, it was hard to deny they looked good walking into a party.
But as with Fonzie and flannel before them, the giddy buzz faded and the Strokes were left to figure out what comes next. Twelve years and four albums later, the devil-may-care 23-year-olds who told the world to take it or leave it sound uncomfortably disengaged as proper adults in their mid-30s, undoubtedly more concerned with rearing their kids than raising the roof.
Comedown Machine barely acknowledges that the hipsters who shouted along to ”Last Nite” can’t hang at those whiskey-stinking clubs anymore because of their bum knees. Still, a few things do stick: The imaginary mod spy flick they’ve been scoring since 2005’s ”Juicebox” gets another chase sequence in spry, jittery album-opener ”Tap Out,” and the moody exit music ”Call It Fate, Call It Karma” creates a deliriously simple fog for frontman Julian Casablancas’ falsetto to slink through.
Otherwise, the band vacillates between rudderless tone poems (”’80s Comedown Machine”), exhausting rave-ups (the screeching “50/50”), and bizarre A-ha biting (“One Way Trigger”), all of which overflow with incomplete ideas. No longer able to trade on their shoes and haircuts, the Strokes are merely an okay garage band figuring out how to grow up. If they ever do, the next album could be killer. C-
”Tap Out” ”Call It Fate, Call It Karma”