There are moments - quite a few frustrating ones in fact - on the new Strokes album when you're left wondering whether the band will ever recapture the wild and joyous delight of songs like Last Nite and The Modern Age. That was back in the day when the scruffy yet stylish New Yorkers strutted on to the music scene with pants that were too short for them, their model good looks (well, singer Julian Casablancas and drummer Fab Moretti at least), and released classic 2001 debut Is This It.
Two years later they were back with tracks like 12:51 and Reptilia off the equally accomplished Room On Fire. Then came the patchy First Impressions of Earth and five years later, and following some seemingly rough times in the Strokes' ranks, the divisive Angles, which is where the band really started to evolve their sound.
On fifth album Comedown Machine they sound unlike they ever have before. For starters Casablancas' beautifully bored drone is more dynamic these days, moving from soothing and metallic on noodly, groovy opener Tap Out to nothing like you've ever heard him sing before on Chances, where he lets rips with an eerie falsetto scream-cum-serenade.
Musically they sound more diverse too, if a little preoccupied with the 80s (as Casablancas was on his solo album, Phrazes For the Young, from a few years back).
And you can see what they are trying to do - move their music on and evolve with every album they make. And mostly on Comedown Machine their forward-thinking approach works well, with one of the album's best tracks, Welcome to Japan, hardly sounding like the Strokes at all as they get their moochy, toe-tapping,hip-swaying groove on.
But on tracks like the awful freneticism of One Way Trigger, like a sped up version of Aha's Take On Me, it just comes across as try hard and trivial.
And a particular low is the title track (which could perhaps be renamed Life Sapping Machine), which starts off resembling Ultravox's Vienna and might be mistaken for being beautiful if it didn't smoulder on so drearily.
But then they hit out with the uppity, shouty (in that trademark distorted Casablancas' style) 50/50; Partners in Crime has a playful recklessness similar to our own UMO, and first single All the Time is a sparkling standout as it rumbles and swaggers along before giving way to a rousing chorus. It gives a new lease of life to the Strokes of old.
Verdict: Strokin' to the east, west and all around with mixed results
Click here to buy Comedown Machine by The Strokes.