By Kyle Jackson
The Strokes are a band defined by the personalities of the members. When a new album comes out, the music changes with the lives of each of them. The New Abnormal is perhaps the most impacted by this phenomenon, acting as a reunión after a seven-year hiatus from the last effort Comedown Machine. Even Comedown Machine was filled with feuds between lead singer Julian Casablancas and the other band members.
Therefore, the fact the band is giving it another shot instantly made The New Abnormal an interesting album. This album is an apology, not just from Casablancas, but from everyone. It’s a cathartic release through music, and is a love letter to longtime fans like myself, who have been waiting for this day for years.
The album begins with an infectiously catchy track titled “The Adults Are Talking.” This track is an example of The Strokes’ ability to blend guitars so well with the entire track, and stands as a cornerstone of their sound since the turn of the century. However, this album isn’t just traditional Strokes; it’s evolved to evoke more from their sound.
The second track “Selfless,” is where the record’s message screams at us. Julian is hurt by the time away from the people he loves most, and it comes through in every word. Slick guitar solos by Nick Valensi carry his words through to the next verses, and Fabrizio Morreti offers a steady drumbeat accented throughout. Julian wants us to know that life’s too short. He wants to live for his fans, his band, and most importantly, he wants to heal his damaged friendships.
The next three tracks all accent what it means for The Strokes to have fun with each other again. “Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus,” accents the theme of healing old wounds and broken bonds, while being downright fun to listen to. Synthesizers bounce on a signature Nikolai Frature bass line.
“Bad Decisions,” is about the road that got The Strokes into their messy situation. It’s perhaps the most upbeat song on the album and is incredibly catchy, with a hook that is still glued in my head every time I hear it.
Next is “Eternal Summer,” which is the farthest departure from a Strokes song. Yelling in the chorus reminds me of something out of an 80s cop movie, but it somehow works. Pink Floyd influenced guitar riffs played by masterclass rhythm man Albert Hammond Jr. give texture to an otherwise barren chorus.
The second half of the album is where we dive deep into the struggles of the band. “At The Door,” is basically a ballad with no drum kit and artificial sounds throughout. However, simply put, it’s gorgeous. Casablancas appears to talk about heavy themes from his childhood and the lack of support he had growing up. It’s sort of a resolve when he sings the chorus though. He is forgiving his family, growing older, and trying to reach out to repair those burned bridges. He isn’t “trying to build a dynasty,” he just wants people to forgive him. The track ends with him “waiting on the other side, waiting for the tide to rise.” He’s found patience and is better for it.
“Why Are Sundays So Depressing,” offers the same quality guitar work expected, but adds new filters and effects, almost sounding like a Tame Impala track at moments. Casablancas talks about his recent divorce, and says too much time can be evil. The track is overall very well brought together.
Meanwhile “Not The Same Anymore,” is a classic Strokes song. Steady guitar rhythms, infectious melodies, and crooning vocals. The chorus is perhaps the greatest callback to their first record Is This It that I’ve heard since the record was released in 2001.
The closing track “Ode To The Mets,” brings the album to a perfect close. Erie and frightening guitars line the intro, until rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. enters on the synth guitar with a relief to the tension. Julian Casablancas is at his best, talking about his regret for time the band lost with each other. They are grown up, they have kids, and they aren’t the same. Its closing lines offer hope for a new start: “The old ways at the bottom of the ocean, now has swallowed, the only thing left is us. So pardon the silence that you’re hearing. It’s turnin’ into a deafening, painful, shameful roar.”
Some say the last true Strokes album was 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, which is understandable considering the turmoil of Angles and Comedown Machine. I’m happy to say that this is now the latest Strokes album, something people never thought we would have.
Regardless of some objective musical flaws, the message stands as a gold standard for all bands, or even someone struggling to reconnect with lost friendships. The Strokes remind us of the merit of second chances, and how to treat people with kindness, something we could all use during this troubling time.
Best Songs: “Selfless” and “At The Door”