The Strokes are back. The American five piece indie band has released their first studio album in seven years and the name is perfect for these unusual times.‘The New Abnormal’ takes us on a synth wondrous ride with the ingredients for an incredible album. This 1980’s sound laden album is a stark move from 2013’s ‘Comedown Machine.’ Since then, band members have had various projects:from singer Julian Casablancas’ solo career, guitarist Nick Valensi’s band CRX, his partner in crime on guitar – Albert Hammond Jr – releasing his third solo album, bassist Nikolai Philippe Fraiture fronting Summer Moon since 2016 and drummer Fabrizio Moretti appearing with Brazilian/American super group Little Joy. It was inevitable that all these projects would create unique influences on The Strokes’ music and the proof is abundant throughout this album.
‘The New Abnormal’ begins with the classic Strokes sound on ‘The Adults Are Talking.’ The clean and steady beat of Moretti takes you back to the heady heights of early 2000’s hits like ‘Last Nite’ and ‘Someday.’ The straight picking bass lines from Fraiture push through powerfully alongside the ear worm licks of the dueling guitars. This is something The Strokes have always done so well. The guitars are almost like they are in a conversation with each other, jumping back and forth in Valenci’s and Hammond Jr’s individual styles. What struck me most about this album’s introduction were Casablancas’ incredibly gentle yet clean vocals. Previous Strokes albums have used heavy distorted effects on his vocals making it difficult to understand many of the words but in this song, and many throughout, his vocals are clearer than ever before. It is his usual laid back almost lazy style of singing which is generally almost drowned out by the staccato guitar parts but here his voice stands out. In the chorus where he sings “Don’t go there ’cause you’ll never return, I know you think of me when you think of her;” Casablancas sings as though he is unsure of what he should be singing. Almost as if he is making it up as he goes along. This hesitant tone works so well, a tone only Casablancas’ unique vocal style could succeed in achieving. What took me by surprise were the notes he reaches too, not only in this song but on other songs on the album such as ‘Selfless’and ‘Eternal Summer.’ Casablancas may not be known for his vocal range but he definitely shows it off to his full capacity on this album. The conversational vocals that we’ve come to know are replaced with a powerful falsetto, reaching a forceful peak. This is such a strong exciting song to start an album that just gets better and better.
The evident 80’s vibe is no more prevalent than in the track ‘Brooklyn Bridge.’ This is a sheer ode to the synth ridden days of the 1980s. I found this track takes you to another plain, almost a feeling of reaching another dimension. Having a nostalgia which reminds me of playing Super Mario, it is an iconic 80’s track but made in 2020. Below the free flowing, fun retro music lie darker lyrics. “I want new friends but they don’t want me” is sung with pure emotion which hits the listener hard. With such a familiar Strokes sound to the song, it is interesting to hear bands that may have influenced them shine through. This can be heard in the lines “I’m Dancing on a moon beam” which are sung in a sorrowful Morrissey tone above the intricate guitar picking reminiscent of Johnny Mars of The Smiths. The song also leans towards a Human League influence even mentioning 80’s music in the lines “And the Eighties bands, where did they go?” Those bands may have gone but The Strokes have brought their synth laden melodies crashing back with this anthem party tune.
One of my favourite tracks of the album is ‘Bad Decisions.’ Beginning with a Blink 182 style riff and merging into a chorus very similar to that of Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing With Myself,’ the song discusses the theme of unoriginality and the repercussions of generic sounds. “I’m not gonna give a lot of credit, I don’t know how to use how cause I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, can’t make anymore.’ Everything has been done and most ideas are just stolen from something else. The Strokes have experienced this with so many indie bands attempting to re-create the band’s sound of the early 2000’s. It is as though “bad decisions” have been made and the world’s music industry has become a generic brand with a conveyor belt of manufactured acts. The fact that this song sounds like so many others is testament to how clever the band are in constructing something that they are against. It even sounds like they are trying to sound like The Strokes of the 2001 era in this song, which I love being one of the many fans of that period.
The album’s finale takes us back to the 80’s synth that yields nostalgia in the majority of the album – ‘Ode to the Met.’ Casablancas sings “Gone now are the old times, forgotten, time to hold on to the railing” in stark contrast to their 2001 hit ‘Someday’ where he sang “In many ways we’ll miss the good old days, someday, someday.” The band realise the world changes, times change and now, all in their 40’s, they have matured both personally and musically. We may miss the good old days but The Strokes take us back with magical pieces of music. The song continues with a sombre tone with lyrics “Old friends, long forgotten, then old ways at the bottom.” It is the inevitable signs of an ageing band, writing about life’s experiences and not being afraid to delve in to deeper emotions and meanings, letting their fans join them on this personal journey. ‘Ode to the Mets’ is such a melancholic song to end a hyper, 80’s charged and upbeat, synth fueled album.
This is such a personable album. You feel like you’re in the room with the band with chats heard between them in songs like ‘The Adults Are Talking’ and Julian saying “Drums, please Fab” in ‘Ode to the Mets.’ The entire album takes you on a ride of thrills, desire, nostalgia and blissful ease. A great concoction of emotions which the world has been experiencing in 2020. I believe this album is a modern classic and a masterpiece with deep meaningful lyrics along with intricate catchy hooks that are made to put on repeat. An album that oozes coolness, just like the band itself. ‘The New Abnormal’ is a very Strokes album with Julian Casablancas at his emotive and poetic best and the band at their peak of musicianship. A retro inspired album with a very contemporary feel, this is a record that only The Strokes could have mastered.