On April 10th, after a significant time spent indoors, The Strokes appeased/irritated us (delete as applicable) with their 6th full length, aptly titled ‘The New Abnormal’. While society adjusts itself to its own new abnormal, I sat at home with Julian, Albert, Nick, Nikolai and Fabrizio, hoping their return to the fray offered more than 2013’s disappointing and unfocused ‘Comedown Machine’. The guys haven’t all been dormant for 7 years, with Albert releasing (weak) solo records and Julian doing his thing with other project ‘The Voidz’.
A plasticky drumbeat begins immediately, followed by the recognisable staccato pluck of an undeniably Strokes riff. It takes three minutes for Casablanca to showcase his vocal range, and where the album begins to hit its first climax, with his wistful crooning layering over numerous ever-so-slightly distorted guitars. ‘The Adults Are Talking’ is certainly one of the stronger record openers from the band.
After some [perhaps unnecessary] studio noise, perhaps trying to rough the edges of the squeaky clean production from Rick Rubin (Def Jam), the band launches into ‘Selfless’. The track largely feels like another opportunity for Casablancas to stretch his larynx out, however the weaker writing and previous climax give for a lesser album cut.
Third up is the final single from the promotion cycle, ‘Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus’. Analogue synthesisers are the very top of the mix after bringing in the track; the song sets up like a new wave classic. However, quicker than you can recall and sing the chorus to ‘Last Nite’ the 80s synths give way to fuzzy guitars and one of the most infectious chorus melodies on the record.
Chaining singles together, ‘Bad Decisions’ is the fourth track in the listing. The early introduction of a prominent tambourine, with which to tap the foot, confirms suspicions that this song is ‘radio friendly’. An uninspired yet frustratingly ear-wormy hook is easy to imagine ringing around the PA systems of small bars that still run ‘indie nights’, before the more musically intriguing outro, by which time you’d be forgiven to have skipped/forgotten this one. Hopefully before Casablanca does his best Bono impression at 3:47.
I am not sure what the guys were thinking with ‘Eternal Summer’. It is too long. Perhaps they thought they could sneak in six minutes of filler.
‘At The Door’ is amongst the Strokes best work. And there are no guitars in the first minute. On a Strokes record. No, I am not joking. A meaty synthesiser loop beckons the strongest vocal performance on the record. The lyrics are particularly on show with the shallow depth of the instrumental in the verses, and they don’t disappoint. A wandering synth lead paired with an effect laden falsetto vocal are a haunting end to a real show of strength and relevance from the band.
The track ‘Why Are Sundays So Depressing’ is a welcome return to classic sixteenth note basslines and two riffing guitars Strokes. A smattering of synths decorates the downbeat track just in case you forgot this was new Strokes. The track undoubtedly has a strong groove, and a guitar loop that’s been through so many envelope filters it sounds like it’s jabbing my left eardrum is, surprisingly, a welcome addition.
The penultimate track is a classic Strokes ballad; a story written into the lyrics and, yet again, a strong hook offsets what seems to be forced synthesisers to keep with the record aesthetic. Perhaps to lead into the last track, ‘Ode to the Mets’, which starts with an arpeggiated synth being undercut by a spooky guitar riff. The riff is accompanied with further flute-like and high-end fluttery synthesisers. Comically, Julian himself requests the accompaniment of the drums at 1:40, although the listener would be forgiven for forgetting their absence; the delicate synthesiser work is the best on the record so far. A meandering melody, and as words of ‘old friends, long forgotten’ ring out, backed by a wailing guitar matching their pitch, this listener feels like he has, somewhat, got his old friends back. Who knew the Strokes were going to make another half decent record. 7/10