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‘The New Abormal’ is a return to form for The Strokes – a reminder that old dogs can learn new tricks

‘The New Abormal’ is a return to form for The Strokes – a reminder that old dogs can learn new tricks

‘The New Abormal’ is a return to form for The Strokes – a reminder that old dogs can learn new tricks
April 20
19:30 2020

It’s not easy to stay relevant in the music industry, especially when you’re a band as groundbreaking as The Strokes. It’s interesting because these types of bands are heralded as heroes to the artistic community by the fanbase, yet they are just as easily destroyed by their fanbase. The Strokes have had a difficult time getting their foot in the door once again and it seemed like they were officially doomed after the commercial failure that was 2013’s “Comedown Machine.”

It’s difficult to watch a band like The Strokes struggle to get themselves back together again. 2001’s “Is This It” is a stone-cold classic in the history of indie rock music. In a time that was oversaturated with massive pop acts like Brittany Spears, neo-soul and the beginnings of bling rap, rock music was being pushed out of the limelight. New York City’s indie darlings couldn’t have found a better time to unleash their lightning in a bottle upon the world. The album was perfectly sequenced front to back, with every song being reminiscent of the garage rock that spawned in the ‘60s.

The sophomore slump proved no problem for The Strokes, as 2003’s “Room on Fire” contained “Reptilia” and “Automatic Stop,” two of their most popular singles with the former driving one of the most recognizable guitar riffs of the 2000s. Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi’s alternating duel-guitar work would become a staple of the band’s sound. Bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti would prove to be an avid rhythm section with pocket-focused drumming and soaring basslines. On top of all that, Julian Casablancas would offer his signature distorted singing style with lyrics about one-night stands, heartbreak and everything in between.

The Strokes lost their footing around 2006’s “First Impressions of Earth,” which achieved similar commercial success, but caused a division between the fanbase for its overlong album sequencing and darker subject matter, touching on Casablancas’ alcoholism and depression. 2011’s “Angles” would push new-wave and electronica influence into the mix, but still wasn’t enough to fully propel the band into its former glory. The band members all had their own solo outings they were focusing on, and all in all, they didn’t particularly sound like a band anymore, but just a few guys laying down some tracks and leaving.

It’s been seven years since “Comedown Machine” and The Strokes became a legacy more than an act. It seemed that we were just going to have to settle for the next best thing, thus reinvigorating the cycle of groundbreaking artists. Yet, The Strokes had a secret weapon with controversial and legendary producer Rick Rubin, and “The New Abnormal” would find The Strokes resetting themselves in the new decade.

“The New Abnormal” feels like a roaring success for the band, displaying the members’ instrumental capabilities at their apex and sounding like a full band once again. Casablancas arguably gives some of the best vocal performances of his career as well. It was refreshing to hear the band sound invigorated, polishing the electronic elements they played around with in the middle of their career while also retaining the structure that makes them who they are.

Album opener, “The Adults Are Talking,” displays a new arsenal of guitar effects from Hammond Jr. and Valensi. The interplay between the two sounds immaculate through the carefully-curated stereo production. Each guitar riff races back and forth between the listener’s ears, with the bass and electronic drums keeping it grounded.

“Selfless” is a melancholic rock song with some of Casablancas’ most mature lyrics of his career. Where Casablancas would usually remain in his comfortable space on past The Strokes’ releases, “The New Abnormal” is a new beginning for his pleasantly surprising vocal range.

“How did this fit into your story? Why’d you let them judge your body? I’ll be waitin’ there outside,” proclaims Casablancas to the assuming woman he wants to spend his life with. His story isn’t riddled with vices and temptation anymore, yet hones in on settlement and comfortable love.

Another high moment for Casablancas resides in the contemplative album centerpiece, “At the Door,” a synth-heavy ballad that would bode well in a church service for past addictions and regrets. The band finds new ways to layer each chorus so they envelope Casablancas’ croons with devoted success. The track ends with organ synthesizers that say just as much with their ambience as Casablancas does with his words.

These somber tracks are contrasted by “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus,” an album highlight that sounds straight out of The Strokes’ past songbooks while preserving their focus on modern recording techniques. The final bridge is one of the best musical passages on the album and is sure to get past and present fans excited. On the other hand, “Eternal Summer” is one of the most long-winded songs of the band’s career. Standing at about six-and-a-half minutes, it weaves in and out of late career Weezer-inspired verses, with Casablancas’ falsetto reaching its limits and gritty choruses featuring noisy guitar work and vocal lines that could’ve come straight out of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” Its funk-driven groove keeps the song afloat while the band experiments around it.

There are hardly any dull moments on the album. It is balanced in its catchiness and contemplative nature, with many of the tracks traveling between the two in their runtimes. “Ode to the Mets” and “Not the Same Anymore” are precise and gorgeous. They do well together as the penultimate and final tracks of the album, even if they seem to blur together at times. “Why Are Sundays So Depressing” lives alongside “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” by merging The Strokes’ upbeat nature with their newer influences. The Modern English soundalike, “Bad Decisions,” is the only track I’d consider as filler, due to its derivative nature in also sounding like a Billy Idol or The Cure B-side song, but it does well as a single and will draw a new audience to the album.

The Strokes have gotten their foot in the door for the first time in over a decade by releasing their best project since “Room on Fire.” It sounds like the band no longer cares about relevance and instead revel in their past passions for music and songwriting alike. This newer sound isn’t as abnormal as we’d like to think, and it feels like The Strokes have proven you can still have fun while rapidly aging. If this is the new abnormal, I’d like to remain unorthodox.

Final rating: 4/5

Featured Illustration: Miranda Thomas

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Nick Lawrence

Nick Lawrence

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