Album Review – The Strokes: The New Abnormal
What do The Strokes mean in 2020? It’s almost 20 years since their toweringly influential debut album Is This It? was released, still heralded as the defining picture of rock in the 2000s by many. Adored critically and commercially, it spearheaded a garage rock renaissance, spawned affectionate imitators and inspired an impressionistic youth the world over: Alex Turner wasn’t the only one who wanted to be one of The Strokes.
Though unavoidable, it’s perhaps a little unfair to compare every subsequent Strokes release to their debut, as history has often told, longevity after such a perfect start is never simple. Despite 2003’s follow up Room on Fire managing to pack a similar punch, quality control over subsequent releases was patchy and for much of the last decade it seemed like a new Strokes release was the last thing on some of the group’s minds.
Thankfully though, The New Abnormal sees the band at last singing along to the same hymnbook, one that’s conducted by an appreciation for ‘80s New York cool, complete with Basquiat artwork; it’s a hymnbook written in graffiti aside a rattling subway train. When lead vocalist (and reigning coolest name of all-time champion) Julian Casablancas asks, “and the ‘80s song, how did it go?” on Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus, one might as well retort back that it appears on this album! Both The Psychedelic Furs and Generation X receive songwriting nods for Eternal Summer and Bad Decisions respectively, with the latter’s chorus built upon a lovely interpolation of Dancing with Myself, though it’s hard not to get caught mis-singing the original “If I had the chance, I’d ask the world to dance” line which sadly has no counterpart here.
The album opens with the somewhat sedate The Adults are Talking, which despite not doing anything wrong itself, feels like a missed opportunity against a song like At The Door which would have made for a more brazen opener, and is just one of the many highlights which come from Casablancas seemingly having a ball behind the microphone. It’s impressive hearing him shift from a pop-punk drawl on Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus to a funk-pop falsetto on Endless Summer and he manages to elevate Selfless, Not the Same Anymore and Ode To The Mets to heights unimaginable with another indie rock vocalist.
Familiar Strokes’ elements remain rooted to the group’s sound, there’s plenty of clunky yet danceable guitar riffs, watery arpeggios and driving basslines throughout, though it seems Casablancas has brought a little something of his other project, The Voidz, into the mix; Eternal Summer, Why Are Sundays So Depressing? and At the Door wouldn’t have sounded out of place on their mostly brilliant and a little bonkers last album, Virtue. As for misfires, there’s little in the music to not be enamoured by, though with most of the track-list sitting around the 4-6 minute mark and often seeming to be finishing for a good minute or two before they eventually fizzle out; some trimming around the edges wouldn’t have gone amiss.
As to what The Strokes mean in 2020, it’s still a little unclear, these days they’re more commonly found adorning the cover of countless ’noughties indie’ Spotify playlists, crystalised still in that golden period of garage rock revivalism. But with a little help from career revitalisation specialist Rick Rubin, The New Abnormal (a somewhat poignantly apt title for our times) is at least The Strokes’ most cohesive and fun sounding record in over a decade.
The New Abnormal is out now via Cult and RCA Records.You can get the latest news from The Strokes and order the album here – watch the video for At the Door below.
Words by Ryan Bell
14th April 2020