Fans freaked out when they first heard One Way Trigger, the high-pitched, a-ha-sounding computer game soundtrack offered as the first glimpse into the New York band’s fifth album. They thought it was different – too different, perhaps, from the (frankly) stodge that came to pad out the group’s records since their glorious, youthful debut in 2001.
But the thing is, on closer inspection, it’s really nothing new. The standard Strokes chord progression and snap-sharp drums are there, with Julian Casablancas as non-committal as ever. While it’s not business as usual, it’s not far off; but, sadly, neither is it representative of Comedown Machine as a whole. On the moments where a desire to push the envelope works, as on the US punk of 50/50, there are glimpses that the group still “have it”. For every sonic surprise, however, there’s a let down. Casablancas’ voice is continually auto-tuned, covered up, hushed or filtered, while slower numbers (Slow Animals, Chances) feel like filler.
Closer Call It Fate, Call It Karma, illustrates this perfectly. A waltz-time 40s throwback you have to strain to hear, it poses questions with no answers. It’s wilful experimentation with no pay-off, sounding lonely, old, with only the occasional, tempting flicker of a genius that once burnt bright.