The Strokes, “The Comedown Machine” (RCA)
The fifth album by this New York band exudes nervousness. The sonic equivalent of a lawn mower idling in a driveway, the record is a baffling invention, one that expels a lot of energy to no discernible end. It shows a band wondering about its place in the music world and coming up blank.
The album suggests New Wave and touches on DFA-style dance rock, sounds the Strokes fiddled with on their previous CD, “Angles,” without any sense of urgency. This one might have a little more echo and texture, but that isn’t enough. If the group’s stellar debut, “Is This It?,” conjured the insistent CBGBs punk of 1976, “The Comedown Machine” suggests the watered-down, corporate New Wave of Haircut One Hundred.
As usual, vocalist Julian Casablancas buries his voice deep in the songs, as if to remove emotion while failing to mask his stylistic weaknesses. Even the album’s best track, “Call It Fate, Call It Karma,” falters, mostly because of Casablancas’ inability to deliver a convincing vocal to accompany the smoky-lounge vibe of the song.
Maybe the Strokes just got lucky with their first CD, because 12 years is a long time not to equal its promise.
Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
Lil Wayne, “I Am Not a Human Being II” (Young Money)
In small doses, Lil Wayne’s new album can be funny and even clever. But taken as a whole, it’s one big waste of the time and talent of Weezy and all his rapping and producing collaborators, including Drake, Nicki Minaj and 2 Chainz. It takes the complicated world that Wayne often eloquently writes about in his “Tha Carter” albums and reduces it to brash sex talk and demeaning portrayals of women. Good thing those rumors about him being in a coma and near death from too much cough syrup abuse turned out to be false because this would be one embarrassing final statement.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Thompson Square, “Just Feels Good” (Stoney Creek)
Thompson Square, winners of the vocal duo of the year at the 2012 Country Music Association Awards, is part of the rising tide of light, romantic country with male and female vocals evenly split. That blend of pulpy emotion and flattened sound mixing that’s a hallmark of Little Big Town and, decreasingly, Lady Antebellum, has become the genre’s new gold standard.
In that environment, Thompson Square’s anonymity and moderate ambition are assets of a sort. Thompson Square is a married couple, Keifer and Shawna Thompson, and “Just Feels Good” is its second album of wholesome couplehood. That’s not to say that their songs are purely warm and affectionate, or that all endings are happy; it’s more that an air of mutual reassurance underpins even their darkest songs. The vocals are doled out in equal helpings, as is the desperation: No one person does all the leaving, or all the saving.
The Thompsons catalog the small details of a long relationship on “That’s So Me and You,” and hint at domestic naughtiness on “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About.” But aside from the usual bare feet on sand, there’s no density to the feelings here, and no song as direct in its angst as “Glass,” from the duo’s 2011 debut.
JON CARAMANICA, New York Times