If 2011’s ‘Angles’ was the Strokes’ return to New York City scuzz-rock by way of ‘80s New Wave, ‘90s indie rock and a few other reference-point alternatives thrown in for good measure, their fifth album, ‘Comedown Machine,’ is a hollow, synth-driven mess that aims to reinvent their image. Or at least their reputation.

From the opening cut ‘Tap Out’ (which starts with a deceiving five-second blast of guitar heroics before a robotic bass-hopping beat takes over) to the closing track ‘Call It Fate, Call It Karma’ (a stripped-down, low-fi art-school project), ‘Comedown Machine’ is the sound of a band grasping for relevancy a dozen years after its debut album made the Strokes one of music’s most exciting new artists. But ‘Is This It’’s electric thrills have been replaced by misguided attempts at widening their indie rock foundations with songs that sound little like what we’ve come to expect from the group.

This is their point. The Strokes, especially singer Julian Casablancas, are shrewd and restless enough to want to expand their music into different areas: disco, R&B, synth-pop, whatever. Thing is, very little on ‘Comedown Machine’ sounds like unfiltered rock ‘n’ roll. Everything comes with a label, most of which stop somewhere in the early ‘80s.

Whether it’s the Cars-like ‘All the Time’ (the album’s most Strokes-like tune) or the synth-pop that splatters ‘One Way Trigger’ with New Wave cheese and an ever cheesier Casablancas falsetto, ‘Comedown Machine’ nods to the members’ kindergarten years the way most post-‘Pulp Fiction’ crime movies nod to Quentin Tarantino: blatantly and with little insight or inspiration. Then again, ‘Last Nite’ sounds like ‘American Girl,’ so nothing new here.

But at least on ‘Is This It,’ the Strokes’, um, tributes to the Velvet Underground, Television and other past NYC rockers were injected with a fresh dose of new-millennium perspective. On ‘Comedown Machine’ they sound tired, bored and lazy. The slow-simmering ‘80’s Comedown Machine’ (which sounds more like mid-period Yo La Tengo) doesn’t even bother masking their indifference. Call it a reboot, if you will. But it sounds more like they’ve given up.

5 out of 10 diffuser.fm rating

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