‘The second coming of a band who collapsed and rebuilt’
Matty Pywell
10:42 6th April 2020

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The Strokes haven’t released an album in seven years. They didn’t even tour Comedown Machine when it came out. The band too disjointed with the cracks that had appeared as early as their third record First Impressions of Earth. Their infamous debut album Is This It propelled indie rock back into the spotlight and creative consciousness, subsiding a Britpop genre gone stale. With The New Abnormal, The Strokes have released their best album in over a decade.

Often accused of trying too hard to capture the sound that made them so successful in the first place, The New Abnormal is no such tribute. Tracks such as ‘The Adults Are Talking’ sound like classic Strokes but not self-plagiarising, instead as a natural initiation back into that gang of leather jackets and denim jeans. We get snippets at the end of tracks of the band interacting, whilst this is normal for many artists, it feels important here. The band have had their own interior struggles, to hear them joking, laughing together is a relief. Whether or not you're convinced by them is one thing but the new album is as cohesive as they’ve ever been.

The album flows between indie rock and pulsating new wave mixed with electronica. The band’s ventures into electronic elements are a huge success and their use of synth has created some of the their best ever hooks. Casablancas embroiled in jet blue clouds of static, or sweeping waves of scratchy, fuzzy noise. This bigger, widely encompassing sound fits them like a fresh pair of treads. Their influence is clear for all to see as Julian sings, “any 80s song, yeah how did it go?” on ‘Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus’. The whole infrastructure of riffs supporting the synth melody make tracks such as this one, with Albert Hammond Jr, Nick Valensi and Nikolai Fraiture providing the blueprints to irresistible rhythm.

Julian Casablancas puts in his strongest vocal performance for a long time. During ‘Eternal Summer’ we get two opposing shades of the man, a gentle falsetto that tenderly tries to emulate the synth and a shriek of disillusion, manifested into anger, a variation of previous half screams in songs such as ‘Reptilia’ but held for much longer. “I can’t believe it, this is the 11th hour” is a line that receives visceral treatment, as the singer becomes paranoid at the thought of an endless summer. The politics of The Strokes more subtle than other artists with references to stockholders and higher powers referenced in passing. 

‘At The Door’, the first single released for this album still manages to be a conflicted five minutes, the track feeling a little vacant in the chorus with just the synth line and Casablancas’ vocals, sorely missing the presence of Fabrizio Moretti’s drumming, leaving a certain emptiness. But when Hammond Jr and co kick into gear the track does hold a gripping, down on your knees, clutching hands up to the sky tragedy to it. 

No track best encapsulates The Strokes’ penchant for effortless cool more than ‘Bad Decisions’. “I don’t take advice from fools, never listening to you”, Julian says arrogantly swatting someone away. The band have always projected an arrogance but not one where people would hold them with disdain. It’s part of the character they project, the arrogant, no-fucks-given rock and roll star, an arrogance and coolness that we’re naturally attracted to, even fascinated by. To listen to The Strokes is to somehow adopt that same sense of cool. The song is liberating, cutting guitar riffs that naturally increase your BPM and a tale of living carefree? A dangerous mix indeed.

Meet Me in the Bathroom by Lizzie Goodman, the book charting the resurgence of rock in New York from 2001 and largely following the journey of The Strokes throughout is said to be getting a film adaptation. The story is prime Hollywood material, the quick rise of a band that revitalised a genre, before failing to match that initial explosion and beginning a downward spiral with internal conflict. The New Abnormal is a chapter much further down in that blockbuster, the second coming of a band who collapsed and rebuilt, it may not be considered a classic such as their beginnings but The Strokes are back to making damn good rock music.

The New Abnormal is released on 10 April 2020 via Cult Records / Columbia.

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