The Strokes: The New Abnormal (Cult/RCA) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, August 4th, 2020  

The Strokes

The New Abnormal

Cult/RCA

Apr 09, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


The Strokes will always have a complicated legacy. They came out of the gates with the single defining statement in 2000s guitar rock, and in the nearly 20 years since everything they have done has been compared to Is This It. I told a friend that I was reviewing the new Strokes record, the first in seven years, and the only reaction I heard was, “Is it as good as Is This It?” This is all to say, if all you are looking for from The Strokes’ latest offering is a retread of Is This It, you will be disappointed. Instead, The New Abnormal is the most vital and consistent the band has sounded in over a decade.

The lead singles of this record give two distinct, and seemingly contradictory, pictures of the album. “At the Door,” is a synth-led slow burn of a track. While an unexpected choice for the first single, it still has an immense, cinematic sound and a heart wrenching vocal performance from Julian Casablancas. The closest reference point here seems to be Casablancas’ work with The Voidz. Meanwhile, “Bad Decisions” sounds closer to a throwback to the band’s garage rock roots with a New Wave twist. The guitars sound similar to an Is This It or Room on Fire track, run through Modern English’s “Melt With You.” Although the song is somewhat of a genre lift, even going as far as to interpolate the melody of “Dancing With Myself,” it’s still the closest the band has come to hitting the effortless energy of the classic Strokes era.   

Where The New Abnormal succeeds is how well it unites these disparate sounds in one album. The songs here may be looser and, in some cases, more unconventional, but they still feel quintessentially of The Strokes. “The Adults Are Talking” is an instant highlight with its dueling guitar solos, Casablancas’ iconic croon, and earworm melodies. Later, “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” starts with stabbing synths, but transitions into more familiar territory with one of the most addictive choruses on the record. This album holds onto the sharp melodies and double guitar hooks of the band’s best material, but also works in some of the left-field experimentation of The Voidz. It is all brought together masterfully by Rick Rubin’s production.

The pace of the album does slow in the second half as the band explores more leisurely material. Much like “At the Door,” these songs take their time unfolding but reveal great beauty as they do. However, this does slow the momentum later in the album. “Not the Same Anymore” is especially guilty of this. While it does have a dynamic vocal performance from Casablancas, the instrumental behind him is probably one of the least interesting on the album, which weighs it down. Thankfully, “Ode to the Mets” ends The New Abnormal on a high note with one of the best songs on the album.

The Strokes’ best music taps into that ineffable “cool” factor that made them so iconic. The break on “Hard to Explain” or Julian Casablancas’ yelps introducing “New York City Cops” ooze an effortless quality that The New Abnormal brings in spades. Casablancas calling in the drums on “Ode to the Mets” or joking with Fabrizio Moretti on “Why Are Sundays So Depressing” capture that Strokes attitude perfectly. What’s more, after a long period of interpersonal turmoil, the band actually sounds like they are having fun with these songs.

Although 2013’s Comedown Machine does have its defenders, for many it fell dead on arrival. What’s more, it was undersupported by the band, who did no press and didn’t tour for the album. Some even theorized it came about merely as a contractual obligation. The New Abnormal is the sort of comeback Comedown Machine should have been. The band seems happier and healthier together, while simultaneously pulling together their best set of songs in the past decade. Couple that with Rick Rubin’s cinematic production and you have the high point of the late-career Strokes records. (www.thestrokes.com)  

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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