Alternative Press magazine recently revisited one of its cover stories, a list of the "100 New Bands You Need to Know in 2001," complete with updates on what's become of each of them. The Strokes wasn't on the list, though by the end of 2001 the New York quartet was practically all anyone could talk about. A decade later, after releasing the email-assembled "Angles," they'd disintegrated considerably, and I described a 2011 concert as "labored, merely capable, not completely forced but close." If the Strokes had been on AP's list, one could imagine the update sounding like this: "Got everyone excited about a rock revival in '01, then painstakingly deconstructed that excitement with each subsequent release. Allegedly there's still something of an audience for their new album in 2013. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?"
"Comedown Machine," the fifth Strokes full-length, is definitely not the same band that inaugurated the 21st century. Which, of course, is good news, given the ease with which brooding garage rock tends to calcify. But even though this album rises and falls on fickle melodies and strange whims, it's mostly pleasant and oddly elegant.
Whereas the Strokes' debut, "Is This It," owed some of its black-leather snarl to the Dandy Warhols' own major-label debut a few years earlier, "Come Down," here it's as if singer Julian Casablancas -- since his solo outing ever more shameless with his Reagan-era fixations (and the "title" track here is actually called "80s Comedown Machine") -- has been listening to the Warhols' "Welcome to the Monkey House," picking up on that album's rather naked Duran Duran synth and swing (Nick Rhodes was a collaborator). Sure, there are a few moments of guitar-driven rage ("50/50" finds Casablancas yowling, "Don't judge me!"), but they're aberrations alongside the other surprisingly pretty tunes (elsewhere, Casablancas takes his falsetto out for a trot, sometimes a stumble) and remarkable instrumental restraint. That same restraint leads to lethargy and aimlessness on more than one occasion, but "Comedown Machine" -- all the way to the absurd lounge-music closer, "Call It Fate, Call It Karma" -- maintains a playfulness that keeps it from getting too boring.