When I first listened to the new album from The Strokes, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it. It had everything that I have come to expect from a Strokes release, but I felt like it was missing some ingredient to it that made it feel complete. These feelings quickly evaporated the more I listened to The New Abnormal as it has become my favorite Strokes album since their incredible debut. This odd transition of uncertainty to favorability speaks a lot to the bands’ character and approach to songwriting. The New Abnormal is The Strokes’ first new album in seven years, their sixth studio album in total, and was expertly crafted under the tutelage of legendary producer Rick Rubin. There is plenty to unpack on this latest release that features plenty more ups than downs.
Starting off the record with a programmed beat and a humming bass/guitar line on “The Adults Are Talking,” The Strokes begin to get their sea legs back as they try and navigate through this experimental opener. On the chorus of the track, Julian Casablancas carefully croons, “Don’t go there, ’cause you’ll never return / I know you think of me, when you think of her / But then it don’t make sense when you’re trying hard / To do the right thing but without recompense.” The song bleeds away with some background noise of the band tuning up for the next track, “Selfless,” to create the illusion of the group being right there with us. It’s on this second song that Casablancas continues to rely on his impressive falsetto vocals to bring out rich feelings towards the music presented.
The first real gem of a song appears on “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus,” which features a baseball organ on steroids with some confidently sung vocals courtesy of Casablancas. The guitars by Alex Hammond Jr and Nick Valensi are entirely in tune with what the organ is doing on the song, and the blend the mix of sounds into one of the catchier songs on the album. “Bad Decisions” follows this brilliant song with some equally impressive songwriting and musicianship. I particularly enjoyed the second verse where the band confidently backs up their singer as he sings, “Oh baby, I hang on everything you say / I wanna write down every word / But do me a favor when you come close / When I look around, don’t wanna see you / I don’t take advice from fools / Never listenin’ to you.” By this point in the LP, the band has regained a lot of the magic that made them such a fun listen in the first place.
“Eternal Summer” is a guitar-soaked summer jam that is almost entirely sung in falsetto, and never loses momentum as it brilliantly unfolds. The song has some of the swagger of modern R & B with just enough indie rock to make it still feel like a Strokes song through and through.
If there is a weak spot on the record, it comes in the form of synth-driven “At The Door.” The song takes a while to get going, and by the time it does, it’s hard to regain their overall footing and purpose that they may have been going for here. It feels like more of an experimental type of song than something to expect in the middle of one of their best albums in quite some time. This song is forgivable given the stellar closing trio of “Why Are Sunday’s So Depressing,” “Not The Same Anymore,” and “Ode to the Mets.”
On the first of the three songs, it becomes even more apparent of just how much more magic the band has left in the tank as they wrap their heads around this next decade of uncertainty. “Not the Same Anymore,” tells a clever story of a relationship turning sour as the band explores some more undiscovered territory with a unique song structure. The fuzzy and high-pitched wails of the guitar are never too far-fetched for Casablancas to do his storytelling over them, and it ends up being one of the better closing moments that the band has had on any record that comes to mind. “Ode to the Mets” starts with some almost 8-bit Nintendo type of synths, that bleed away into a beautiful Strokes’ song that gets going after the drums kick in. It’s on this song where Casablancas admits, “And I got it all / I got it all waiting for me / Down on the street / But now you gotta do something special for me / I’m gonna say, what’s on my mind / Then I’ll walk out / Then I’ll feel fine.” This stark admission of things panning out the way he had planned is a rarity for both him and his band.
As the album states, The New Abnormal is a fitting way of looking at the latest work from The Strokes. This new way of taking things in stride, with a little bit of uncertainty thrown into the mix, is a crucial cog in understanding what makes the machine that are The Strokes work so damn well together. The album has an eclectic mix of feelings, moods, and sounds, but in the end, it all seems to work out as the band has created some great art here.