Album Review: The Strokes – The New Abnormal

If you’re looking for Is This It, this ain’t it. The New Abnormal is its own thing despite intentional retro pastiche and familiar motifs. It’s experimental and eminently accessible.

The Adults Are Talking starts out as something of an EDM banger before the familiar bass lines kicks in to reassure us that The Strokes are back. Julian Casablancas’ vocal is tender and compelling. The vox effects are restrained until the chorus explodes, taking us back to the fire of the band’s early days. This five minute opener keeps up the pace towards a falsetto interlude. It’s a pleasing mix of familiarity and musical experimentation.

The next track is preceded by ambient studio noise and the comment “Let’s go back to the old key, the old tempo, everything.” Is this a sign? Not if Selfless is anything to go by. Again, Casablancas seems to be expanding his vocal range beyond the metronomic monotone that we grew to love. The instrumentation shimmers and buzzes. He barrels from falsetto to tough guy as he declares “I’m not scared, just don’t care/I’m not listening, you hear?” It’s a note of defiance after anxiety.

Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus goes full throttle into dance pop, like an indie song being turned into an 80s smash hit right in front of us. The chorus is the most singable so far: “I want new friends but they don’t want me.” To avoid any confusion, Casablancas directly references the decade: “And the 80s song, yeah, how did it go?/When they said, ‘This is the beginning of the best years’/Even though….FALSE” The meta effect continues as he muses on the fate of the era’s bands went before explicitly signaling the transition to the chorus.

Bad Decisions recalls the dour treats of the decade, though vocally it’s peak 2000s like how we first met The Strokes with a vocoder and Casablancas stretching every word to breaking point.

The Strokes

Eternal Summer takes us full pop falsetto except for the searing instruction “ignore reality” (which we’d all like to do right now). There’s a hint of The Psychedelic Furs’ The Ghost In You. Just as we’ve adjusted, Casablancas switches to yelling and pitching in gang vocals as the instruments screech in support. A gentle beat as Casablancas’ Jekyll and Hydes between “I need a friendly face/I hate that feeling too…don’t expect the truth/this is a fantasy/I fight that feeling too/but nobody’s gonna stop us now.”

Musically, At The Door recalls earlier tracks on the album as it careens between synth and choral parts. The pepped up breakdown is lush even as Casablancas sings “we lost this game so many times before.”

The title Why Are Sundays So Depressing seems to be a misnomer if the instrument line is anything to go by. Then Casablancas swaggers in. A quick falsetto is stolen away as an exaggerated Joy Division-ish section asserts “I want your time/don’t ask me questions that you don’t want the answer to.”

Not The Same Anymore is much slower, more deliberate, more forensic. Uncle’s house is a place of mystery and darkness: “her and a boy on a Saturday night/and now the door slams shut/a child prisoner grows up to seek his enemy’s throat cut.”

Ode To The Mets closes out the nine track record with nods to earlier songs and musical directions. Again there’s a DIY meta quality as Casablancas cuts to Fab’s drums during his soliloquy “I’m gonna say what’s on my mind/then I’ll walk out.”

If you’re looking for Is This It, this ain’t it. The New Abnormal is its own thing despite intentional retro pastiche and familiar motifs. It’s experimental and eminently accessible. Exploring closed doors, passing time, unrequited friendships, love and light, it’s perfect for the abnormal new normal we find ourselves in now.

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