Rating – 4/5
‘The New Abnormal’ is the culmination of recording sessions stretching back to 2016 featuring production from heavyweight Rick Rubin. It’s a collection of stripped back, mature-sounding tracks that show The Strokes have mellowed significantly, but like a glass of fine wine has aged well; Rubin’s characteristic production complements the simplicity and tranquility of a lot of the album.
The opening of the first track, ‘The Adults Are Talking’ echoes the 2003 hit ‘Reptilia’ with a stark similarity that’s obvious to anyone who happened to turn on a radio in the 2000s. A simple, catchy guitar and bass line but the sound has changed to a more muted affair in comparison to distorted, driving riffs of old. Now the guitar work is more complex and layered, multi-tracked Dick Dale-Esque alternate picking dominates and high falsetto vocals breeze airily over the top of the cleaner sound.
‘Selfless’ paints an echo-y landscape with a heavily chorus laden guitar; the vocal melody is complex and again showcases a nice use of falsetto with some nice vibrato and an almost folky twang.
‘Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus’ begins with a stabbing of 80s synths and a generous helping of Casablancas best Human League impersonation, complete with throwaway sing-talk vocals. Fitting as the song reminisces about the past making frequent mention of the 80s and trendily announces parts of the track as it progresses. The anachronistic self-awareness relates to Casablancas own gradual aging and his attitude towards it: “The deeper I get, the less that I know / That’s the way that it goes”
‘At The Door’ continues to showcase the use of trendy low-fi sounds that are littered across the album; a low buzzing synth motif offset by a lone vocal melody. An emotional ballad with a dark tone that shifts to a more uplifting, twinklier chorus. The instrumental section is interesting and extremely different to the sound you’d expect; characterized by ominous synth swells and vocals that border on the inaudible.
It’s an album about growing older, one of nostalgia and self-reflection melancholy musings across the record, and tracks such as ‘Not The Same Anymore’ and ‘Why Are Sunday’s So Depressing’ offer a window into the band’s mindset. The Strokes aren’t exactly aging rockers but they’re not young either and this record shows it
There’s a concerted effort to diversify the types of songs that they write; however there is a touch of the formulaic present in the process behind the album. Some tracks tend to bleed into each other without much distinction; it’s a trade-off that happens when trying to achieve a nonchalant, understated sound. If you don’t pay attention the fuzz can blend into one and before you know it you’re halfway down the tracklist.
Incorporating electronica heavily into their sound and a penchant for recreating a reverb-drenched 80s vibe certainly make this record stick out against The Strokes previous discography. Overall it does give off a dreamy, nostalgic vibe which the band was attempting to create and it’s really hammered home with the final track ‘Ode to the Mets’; a nostalgic letter to the band’s home of New York. The bleak atmosphere doesn’t particularly put you in mind of an ‘ode’, but it’s an homage nonetheless. The vocals have a crooning, lounge-like quality, a nod to the city’s strong jazz roots; but it’s faint enough to be almost indistinct from the usual vocal style.
The group has most definitely achieved a different sound with this record, and reflects the mindset of The Strokes; they’re looking backward to their youth, reminiscing about the past and all of its mistakes and the as-of-then unknown consequences. There’s a lot to dig into lyrically (there’s a lot of mention of doors) and for fans of Casablancas, his chronicling of the past will be of great interest; a doorway if you will into his mind.
The creativity is to be applauded and the full commitment to switching up the sound from their previous incarnations is laudable also. An album we may look back on as a defining moment for the group’s direction, or one that may fade into the background of obscurity; overshadowed by the earlier garage rock sound. Either way, it remains an enjoyable listening experience.
Review by Theo Wildgoose