From first glance, it may seem like The Strokes latest record A New Abnormal is a cheeky dig on the year 2020. That may be true after a fashion, but I see it as them acknowledging how the band isn’t what they used to be, and that’s alright. Fans have always been clamoring for a repeat of The Strokes sound from nineteen years ago, when ‘This is It’ hit the airwaves and propelled the band to superstardom. Since then the band has been through ups and downs, with the general consensus saying that their most recent outings, 2011’s Angles and 2013’s Comedown Machine have seen a decline.
There’s an argument for each side, but for me one thing’s for sure, The New Abnormal might not be a 100% return to form, but it’s a rejuvenating offering with great riffs and a dynamic mix of engaging songs. The guitars share equal space with the synths, where 80’s soundscapes meets indie rock. Julian Casablancas’ vocals, while great as always feels even more versatile here. You can hear his pain with every belt, every croon and falsetto has weight, and it shifts every so often to unexpected paths that feel satisfying. Coupled with excellent riff work that one can only expect from The Strokes and with Rick Rubin on the producer’s chair, we have a solid addition to the band’s storied discography.
“The Adults Are Talking” opens the album with hushed up and smooth tones. Sharp drums and a grooving bass line accompany Casablancas as he lashes against the powers that be: critics, stockholders, and presumably politicians. Entities that The Strokes have clashed through their career.
Ballads such as “Selfless” and “Not The Same Anymore” sees Casablancas reflecting on relationships. The former deals with a rocky romantic affair while the latter touches on the band’s internal conflict, along with its relationship with fans and the media. It acknowledges that things aren’t the same anymore, but the still band remains. Both songs are highlighted by a great vocal performance and plenty of nostalgia.
Another thing of note is the strong 80’s influence in this record. “Bad Decisions” takes cues from Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself while lathering it with The Strokes’ brand of psych rock. “Eternal Summer” references The Psychedelic Furs’ The Ghost in You in its chorus. It remembers the good old days with a blissful mood, but Casablancas sees that it’s all make believe. The line “Summer is coming, won’t go away” is counteracted by the outro’s atonal buzz, suggesting that something is coming to end the fantasy.
The New Abnormal is The Strokes with more insight and experience. An ode to the band’s rocky history, oozing with coolness and swagger that you can’t find anywhere else. Doubters might say otherwise, but The Strokes still have plenty to offer.