The Strokes: 'The New Abnormal' Album Review
Updated: May 22
By Seb Lloyd
After a much-maligned fallout from stratospheric success, you’d think The Strokes would be happy to settle for something new, however abnormal. When Interviewed by Alexis Petridis on Rick Rubin’s involvement in The Strokes album The New Abnormal, Frontman Julien Casablancas replied, “I guess he thought: these guys have fallen far enough.” Renowned producer Rubin, the signer of Public Enemy, the reinvigorator of Johnny Cash, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Metallica and many more (Including Adele,Tom Petty, System of a Down) is here to provide a minimalist kiss of life, to help the band's best ideas shine brightest.
The between song outtake at the end of the first track ‘The Adults are Talking’ captures Casablancas saying ‘So let’s go back to the old key, old tempo, everything,’ you’d be forgiven for thinking this insinuates a yearning for a return to the sound that facilitated their triumphant arrival in the early 2000s. However, In Lizzy Goodman’s 2017 book, ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001–2011’ Goodman describes The Strokes in their early days as “Chasing a feeling of rebellion, of possibility, of promise, of chaos … something that called to Charlie Parker and Bob Dylan and Madonna before us.” ‘The New Abnormal’s cover art is Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘Bird on Money’, a painting known to be a tribute to legendary saxophonist Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. (Below) It feels like a homage to the New York music lineage that The Strokes became part of nearly 20 years ago, a look into the past to find a way into the future.
So how have they fared? The opener ‘The Adults are Talking’ has the opening drums of Joe Jackson’s ‘steppin out,’ with the duel guitars working like clockwork to call on a subdued but sentimental Strokes sound. Julian says ‘stockholders’ into the outro like a cartoon character awkwardly trying to say something political, but the song holds together. ‘Selfless’ follows, with soaring melody lines set against a soundscape like Beach House with cabin fever. ‘Brooklyn Bridge to chorus’ serves up some Bangles-esque synths with heavy compression that seems to be the largest mark left by Rick Rubin on the album, besides some editing undoubtedly performed in Lotus position. ‘And the '80s bands? Oh, where did they go?' nicely pairs nonchalant vocal delivery with an awareness of the influences that have spawned their new sound.
Much has been made of single ‘Bad Decisions’ song writing credits being shared with Billy Idol and Tony James as the song is a spitting image of Idol’s 1981 hit 'Dancing with myself'. It’s undeniably danceable despite it's one chord chorus. The 2nd half of the album births a whole new sound for the band. ‘Eternal Summer’ is glamorous and spaciously mixed to be filled by a falsetto fit for The Weeknd or Years and Years. There is lyrical change too. ‘Summer is coming / it’s here to stay / they got the remedy / but they won’t let it happen,’ hints at climate anxiety and is reflective of a more political streak in the life of the band, who performed at a Bernie Sanders rally on the 10th of February this year.
On ‘At the Door’, Julien sings ‘Struck me like a chord’ and is promptly followed by the guitars richly layered arpeggios to fill in the skeletal space of the track. The experimental dynamics on this song help it crescendo wonderfully even if I think Nikolai Fraiture’s bass line could have stuck around longer once it finally comes in. ‘Why are Sundays so depressing’ is again heavily compressed, this time on the guitar lead, but it works here. The drums sound great in the chorus, and the vocal reverb reminds me of early Killers which is big sonic irony in The Strokes careers, as back in the 2000s they complained that the slick Las Vegas rockers had stolen their thunder “I think our songs are better than ‘Mr. Brightside’ by the Killers, but how come that’s the one everyone is listening to?'
On the Arctic Monkey’s latest album, Alex Turner a little over-articulated the words ‘I just wanted to be one of The Strokes,’ On ‘Not the Same Anymore’ Casablancas appears to do his best Turner impression singing ‘Don’t play that game anymore / You’d make a better window than a door,’ With a gleeful croon that the Monkey's frontman would have been proud of. ‘Ode to the Mets’ is a fitting end to the album, not about the New York Mets baseball team as the name suggests but instead has some much-needed vulnerability largely missing from The Strokes back catalogue. In ‘Think before you drink’ from The Voidz 2018 album Virtue, Casablancas explores his battle with alcoholism that made his former manager describe him as, “a drunken nightmare to society as a whole.” And on 'Ode to the Mets' that past is addressed, be it inconclusively, ‘long forgotten / the old ways at the bottom of / the ocean now has swallowed / the only thing that’s left is us.’
The final line on the album is ‘So pardon the silence that you’re hearing / It’s turning into a deafening, painful, shameful roar,’ This sounds defiant and hopeful, especially when seen as part of a decade where Lizzie Goldman’s Meet Me in the Bathroom, a story about rebirth and rock and roll in New York City but focusing on the story of The Strokes, is set for a documentary mini-series. The burgeoning of on-screen Strokes will only serve to further contribute to the mythos of their meteoric rise and introduce them to a generation who will instead view their career beginnings as music history. This album is part of that maturity and serves as a step into a new abnormal era for the band, and the world.
Listen to the new album below: