‘Comedown Machine” is the first Strokes album that sounds like it wasn’t made by the Strokes. And that’s partly good news for fans disappointed with the New York band’s past few records, particularly 2011’s “Angles,” whose fraught back story implied the group was so at odds that its members didn’t even record it in the same room.
The Strokes’ hallmarks — those lean melodies, that steely interplay among guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. and bassist Nikolai Fraiture, the urgency of Julian Casablancas’s vocals — are largely absent on “Comedown Machine,” their fifth studio album. In their place is a looseness that’s refreshing enough, until you realize these guys are perhaps running short on ideas.
There’s no discernible direction in songs like “Slow Animals” and “Partners in Crime,” which feel more like sketches than final products. More inspired is “One Way Trigger,” on which the band experiments with a punchier electronic sound that Casablancas explored on his 2009 solo album.
With its churning synth melody and nod to the Beach Boys lurking in the chorus, “80’s Comedown Machine” is surprisingly wistful, not exactly a characteristic one associates with the Strokes. But they lean too heavily in that direction on “Chances,” which suggests Passion Pit on Ambien (not a bad aesthetic, actually).
“Call It Fate, Call It Karma,” the strangest but most intriguing moment, is downright dreamy: a free-floating balloon of a song, the kind you’d hear at a prom dance with David Lynch in the DJ booth. Hey, at least it sounds inspired. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “One Way Trigger”