Maybe it’s the magic of working with renowned producer Rick Rubin for the first time, but the Strokes’ first album in seven years (and sixth overall), The New Abnormal, is the band’s most reinvigorated effort since they were simply invigorated.
Songs like “Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus” and “Bad Decisions” are catchy and upbeat. The latter is the album’s brightest spot, a throwback so glaringly reminiscent of Generation X’s “Dancing with Myself” that the Strokes have given writing credits to Billy Idol and Tony James. Sharp hooks, melancholic chords, deep kick-drum, and rainy fills escalate until “Bad Decisions” bursts with emotion.
Despite a song “Bad Decisions,” though, reinvigorated doesn’t necessarily mean upbeat. The New Abnormal is best when it nestles into mid-tempos. Opening track “The Adults Are Talking” is indicative of most of the album: it’s tempered but never lethargic. It’s clean and clear; even though Julian Casablancas sings in a whispering tone, his voice is never muddled into his signature mutter. And when the song gradually reaches its peak, Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi’s guitar solos don’t duel but rather complement each other. The two guitarists step aside for each other at just the right time and never trip over each other or trample the other’s foot.
Other mid-tempo highlights include the bewitching “Not the Same Anymore,” one of the Strokes’ most unique songs, and “Eternal Summer,” a difficult listen only because summer could very well be cancelled due to COVID-19 lockdowns. “Eternal Summer” is a sweeping track that rides high in a cloudless sky, but it takes unseasonal turns with Casablancas straining his voice over a gathering of cloudy guitars. The Strokes have long toyed with retro-futuristic keyboards and synths and continue to do so prominently on “Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus” and the drumless, atmospheric “At the Door,” yet another one of the band’s most unique songs.
The Strokes have had a contentious history in the recording studio. At its height, during the making of 2011’s Angles; Casablancas submitted his vocals and vague writing instructions via email while the rest of the band toiled in the studio. But on The New Abnormal, the Strokes sound more in sync than almost ever. It’s impossible to speculate on the writing and recording of The New Abnormal, but it’s nice to think the title of the second track, “Selfless,” describes the band’s more democratic and even convivial interpersonal dynamics at the time.
review by Leslie Chu
The New Abnormal
1. The Adults Are Talking
3. Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus
4. Bad Decisions
5. Eternal Summer
6. At The Door
7. Why Are Sundays So Depressing
8. Not The Same Anymore
9. Ode To The Mets