I've spent a reasonably large amount of time over the last couple of weeks listening to, and by extension attempting to get to grips with a couple of new releases. Namely 'Understated' by Edwyn Collins and 'Comedown Machine' by The Strokes.
Starting with the latter I should say upfront that I am a fan of The Strokes and don't necessarily adhere to the oft repeated mantra that their releases have been moving steadily downhill since Is This It revitalised the indie rock scene (for want of a better expression) and indeed the music industry in 2001.
Having said that I did approach Comedown Machine with some trepidation caused in no small part by the disappointment of Angles and the realisation that the dynamic and recording process of the band appears to be that of five individuals who don't particularly get on and would ideally spend as little time as possible in the same place together!
As a result the first listen of the album left me a little bemused as it wasn't at all what I had been expecting. Aside from two or three songs (out of 11) the sound is so far removed from the lo-fi garage rock that we have become accustomed to that I suspect most music fans on the street would struggle to guess the band if played a selection without having already heard it. Once the initial shock faded however I realised that this is actually a pretty good collection of songs. Set free from the (semi self imposed) self conscious New York hipster aesthetic the band are free to explore a broader landscape that takes in surprisingly funky grooves, the occasional foray towards wedding band territory, and the odd experiment with tinny electronic drum kits. It was only after a couple of runs through the entire album that something struck me; the least successful songs are those (no doubt destined to be singles) that try to hark back to The Strokes of old, but just end up sounding like a band bored of not being allowed to move on from past glories. To my mind the album could have been more exciting if the band had gone all out with the change in direction rather than keeping one foot safe and ending up with good rather than potentially great.
Having initially wondered if The Strokes had become tired of being The Strokes and made Metal Machine Music it turns out that they have perhaps finally realised that not everyone has to be Lou Reed at all and music can in fact (dare I say it) sometimes be enjoyable, so all is not lost.