Review | The Strokes — The New Abnormal
For the band's first release in seven years, The Strokes find a way to mature their sound, presenting genuine concern and self-introspection for the first time as an outfit in the world around them.
Once lauded as the saviours of rock n’ roll in the early 2000s, The Strokes are nearing two decades of recorded material. Arguably kick-starting the post-punk revival with 2001’s Is This It?, the band’s future releases have been rocky, to say the least. Sophomore LP Room On Fire had the same charm as their debut — albeit in a similar style — whereas other records such as Angles and Comedown Machine, the latter being the most recent release up until this point, came across as half-baked. To fans of The Strokes, the perceived mediocrity of recent releases reflected a tension between the band's members, substance abuse and side projects within the zeitgeist of The Strokes’ world. Now back after seven years since Comedown Machine, the latest release The New Abnormal reflects a new era in the band’s catalogue – much like a line drawn in the sand. In addressing issues and bringing in acclaimed producer Rick Rubin, a new chapter is written in The Strokes’ discography.
The New Abnormal contains a balance of old-school writing from their early career, bought together with new ideas explored in later records. Opening with ‘The Adults Are Talking’, Julian Casablancas’ vocals take on a mid-20-year-old tonality, eventually opening up to a brilliant falsetto near the end of the track. Leading into ‘Selfless’, these high-registered vocals compliment middle-pace, somewhat hazy guitars.
Atmospherically, within the first two tracks, The New Abnormal has taken on a more mature, responsible approach, expressing diligence and clarity. However, following up the first two tracks is the final single, ‘Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus’. Kicking off the track are blaring synthesiser chords, which can only be attributed to Rubin and his heavy influence on ‘the loudness war’. Adding in synth-pop elements to the track, it is a welcome change to see The Strokes with creative changes to their initial sound – nothing comes across as tacked on, and structure-wise, it is watertight and typical of their writing style.
Second single ‘Bad Decisions’, interpolating Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing With Myself’, is the most stereotypical Strokes track on The New Abnormal. Albert Hammond, Jr. and Nick Valensi’s guitars sound sharp, crisp, and almost New Order-like – some may compare it to Age Of Consent. Incorporating post-punk elements in sharper focus, ‘Bad Decisions’ is a definite highlight for old-school Strokes fans. However, past the first half of the tracklist begins a descent into more exploratory song structures, and self-introspection. Perhaps this could be attributed to members’ other projects giving themselves new ideas to work with. The New Abnormal, at times, could be compared to Casablancas’ project The Voidz, which he has publicly stated is his main project. ‘Eternal Summer’, the longest track on the album, and possibly the longest song in The Strokes’ catalogue yet, is drawn out in comparison to other tracks through instrumental passages, and Julian’s psychedelic-inspired vocals nearing the end disrupt the flow of the record thus far.
Released as the first song from The New Abnormal, ‘At The Door’ is a track that features little to no drumming contribution. Instead, synthesisers layer Casablancas’ honest, candid vocals:
I can't escape it, I'm never gonna make it 'til the end, I guess.
Relinquishing what power he may still be trying to hold, the production is rich and pulsating with liveliness, in contrast to the bleak picture Casablancas paints. Fading out into ‘Why Are Sundays So Depressing’, drummer Fabrizio Moretti returns to what he does best as a drummer: a strong backbeat that isn’t particularly flashy, yet compliments the melody section well. Fans may reflect on ‘Why Are Sundays…’ being similar to ‘Trying Your Luck’ from Is This It? in terms of guitar interplay, although the synth parts add a new dimension to the depth in The New Abnormal. These additions of new, layered synthesisers, as well as more abstract song structures, instigate a new development in The Strokes’ creative process, and how to execute their ideas. Nearing the end of The New Abnormal, ‘Not The Same Anymore’ reflects this change:
And now it’s time to show up, Late again, I can't grow up, And now it's on me, they've given up.
Passionate vocals from Casablancas, - although with similar subject material to early Strokes material about failed relationships and love - express regret, and gain a renewed approach to a possible protagonist who has grown up and is able to move on in their older age. Closer ‘Ode To The Mets’ continues this self-introspection, yet slight playfulness; Casablancas saying ‘Drums please, Fab’ whilst singing about the band’s start in New York City whilst slowly adding greater instrumentation to provide a fabulous end to The New Abnormal. Presentation of the layered, carefully crafted guitars nearing the coda of ‘Ode To The Mets’ sum up The New Abnormal: a band that has finally identified their next progression as a cohesive unit.
After nearly a decade of mainly misses, The New Abnormal is an incredible return to form from the previous golden boys of indie rock, The Strokes. Although they implement a myriad of their trademark writing, their new additions to structure, lyrical content and instrumentation mesh together excellently. Rick Rubin, a candidate arguably unlikely to produce an old Strokes record, stands at the helm perfectly with crisp, rich production. The Strokes may have tried their luck once more, but this time, it pays off dividends.
Best Track: Bad Decisions, The Adults Are Talking, Not The Same Anymore
Worst Track: Eternal Summer