The Strokes are the perfect representation of the current ‘Palma Violets problem’ I discussed in a previous review. At the turn of the century they were being hailed as the next big thing, the saviour’s of rock n’ roll and all those closely associated, and overused, clichés when discussing new bands on the block.
To be honest, I’ve never been a true fan of the Strokes, not because I haven’t liked their music (besides the complete annihilation of ‘Last Nite’ by various novice garage rock bands and overly-intoxicated middle-age men at mid-week karaoke), but because I simply haven’t been cool or indie enough to admit it.
The Strokes have always been, what my parents would describe as, ‘achingly trendy’ and, even if their debut Is This It had been terrible, it would have still been hailed as a huge success due to the tremendous expectations placed on the band once The Modern Age EP had catapulted them into the public consciousness.
Is This It contains some of the bands early indie anthems, such as ‘Last Nite’, that just refused to go away but the problem with their subsequent releases lay with their initial success in that, musically at least, it was completely overrated. Furthermore, the band did that standard rock n’ roll thing of thinking that they’re all too good for each other (Solo album anyone?) and had a ‘hiatus’ (Codeword: break-up) amongst rumours of the standard inter-band tantrums and tensions.
The benchmark set by Is This It was humongous and has never quite been met, but is it this time? In short, no. But, quite simply, it just doesn’t matter
Although 2001, and the release of Is This It, seems historically recent, musically it is definitely not!Twelve years of music is the difference between Cliff Richard’s ‘Summer Holiday’and Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’; Live Aid and Radiohead’s Ok Computer.
In Countdown Machine, this natural passing of time is definitely reflected in a maturity of sound. Long gone are the days of that same ‘indie guitar-band’ beat, now adopted by the Vaccines and the aforementioned Palma Violets, on everything from ‘Last Nite’ and ‘Someday’ to 2011’s ‘Under Cover of Darkness’.
Whilst the expectations of the ‘Strokes sound’ are almost reverted to on ‘Partners in Crime’, elsewhere on the album there is a sense of maturity, development and, above all, excitement at the possibilities of a new ‘Strokes sound.’ Whilst other critics have criticized the band for supporting another Casablancas solo project this isn’t fair, and unrepresentative of the album as a whole, bursting with collective energy. Tracks such as ‘80s Comedown Machine’ remain experimental yet strangely accessible whilst the album is littered with poppy ‘feel-good’ bursts of oomph such as ‘Welcome to Japan’ putting aside whatever ‘inter-band disputes’ may have been rumoured to have arisen as a result of the bands meteoric rise to fame.
The stand-out track though, and the best representation of a sense of musical maturity, collective experimentation, and the all-round ‘feel good’ factor being creatively combined within all aspects of the album is within it’s opening track ‘Tap Out’.
The band has recently gained comparisons to Eighties New Wave which can certainly be felt within the understated, yet surprisingly upbeat, chorus of the album’s opener yet I also immediately felt comparisons with more contemporary groups such as Coconut Records and Bombay Bicycle Club through the infectiously repetitive guitar riff and sense of rhythmic tension, and yet simultaneously somehow a sense of rhythmic fluidity, both within the drums, the bass, and, importantly, how they inter-lock.
The song is also, whether intentionally or not, a reflection of the band’s own reflective state, with lyrics such as ‘‘gotta get my hands on something new’’, ‘‘decide my past, define my life’’ and various repetitions of the word ‘’drifting.’’ A fantastic album opener and testament to, whether the band know it or not, the fact that the Strokes don’t need to meet the ‘benchmark’ set by previous albums such as Is This It. Their new material represents a new level of maturity, a new set of musical ideas and, almost, what feels like an entirely new band.
All links to artists/songs appear in Spotify, other links are to articles.