The Strokes are a band who in many ways embody a struggle to escape the past. While their debut album (2001’s ‘Is This It’) defined a generation with its catchy choruses and punk attitude, plagiarism court cases and accusations of wearing their influences too much on their sleeve soon followed. After a stellar follow up, the band released a trio of albums to lukewarm receptions all the while being constantly compared to the debut on which they built their name. However their (aptly titled) sixth album ‘The New Abnormal’ seems keen on ripping down the Lou Reed posters and instead reflecting the here and now.
Sonically, the album pulls from a variety of influences hinted at in previous releases. While the classic Strokes sound is here in spades, particularly on tracks such as ‘The Adults Are Talking’ and ‘Ode To The Metz’, Rick Ruben’s production feels cleaner and more modern than what we are used to. Similarly, frontman Julian Casablancas’ vocals are less distorted and low in the mix, allowing for some of his strongest ever vocal performances. Lead single ‘At The Door’ is a perfect reflection of The Strokes’ newfound cohesion, with its percussion-less instrumental allowing the spotlight to be on Casablancas, as he croons some of his finest lyrics to date.
It is not as progressive and forward thinking as one might think, with much of the record featuring a clear nostalgia for classic 1980s pop. From Casablancas asking “and the ‘80s bands, where did they go?” on ‘Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus’, to ‘Bad Decisions’ containing a credit to Billy Idol due to its similarities with his hit ‘Dancing With Myself’, the album may as well be wearing sequins and guest appearing on MTV.
However, Casablancas seems to approach this style with a self awareness that prevents it from feeling too contrived or stale. Much like his other band ‘The Voidz’ and their 2018 album ‘Virtue’, these influences are married to brief moments of satisfying oddity and experimentation. The pulsating synth lead on the chorus of ‘Why Are Sundays So Depressing?’, the Pink Floyd-esque distortion punching the otherwise pretty groove of ‘Eternal Summer’, the record contains just enough weird to prevent the record being merely another 2000s indie band reliving their youth.
With most of the cuts exceeding the five minute mark, the album makes for a less immediate and punchy listen than any of its predecessors, but this is made up for with some of Casablancas’ most mature songwriting. His voice seems to be revitalised and better than ever, being capable of delivering Sinatra-like croons and flamboyant falsettos, all while retaining an eccentric sense of charisma. Similarly, ballads such as ‘Not The Same Anymore’ evoke a strong sense of misery and emotional depth not typically associated with the band.
Overall, ‘The New Abnormal’ contains far more hits than misses. While the youthful exuberance of ‘Last Nite’ may be missing, the band sound united and ready to surpass the increasingly low expectations faced to them by the public. While some songs may be as unpredictable as the Basquiat artwork on the cover, a refined track list and strong songwriting ensures it is a return to form for the five piece.