“Comedown Machine” is indebted to summery ‘80s pop (suggested by almost-title-track “’80s Comedown Machine”) rather than the rough-edge ‘70s garage/punk sound that drove The Strokes’ still-great debut. It’s a bit stale compared to the breath of fresh air of Is This It, but it’s not fair to criticise an album for what it isn’t, and the shiny, synthy pop-rock songs have a good deal to recommend them.
Highlights were the aforementioned “’80s Comedown Machine,” a melancholy trudge where the sound design is – in a rare moment for the largely over-produced album – well matched to the melody; the drowsy, catchy opening track “Tap Out;” and “Partners in Crime,” a simple rock song lifted by engaging pop hooks.
Lead singer Julian Casablancas’ influence over the album is clear to anyone who heard his solo album. His vocals are agreeably warm on “Slow Animals,” but his misguided attempts at falsetto on “Chances” and “One Way Trigger” mar otherwise decent tracks. Many tracks stumble because of the album’s overproduction, which is oddly wimpy throughout. And some songs just don’t work, like the clunky “Welcome to Japan.”
“Comedown Machine” isn’t terrible. It’s simply unmemorable, lacking in the vivid energy that characterised the band’s early work.