The Strokes have been a constant in my musical rotation ever since I first became aware of their existence all the way back in 2011. Is This It was the first and only album I ever managed to learn in its entirety on guitar and is a large reason why I’ve improved so much as a player over the years. It’s also barely over a half an hour, which is approximately how long it took me to walk home from high school every day, so it got a lot of plays. The only album I’ve listened to more is Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco, and even then the margin is slim.
It’s been 7 years since their last album “Comedown Machine” and it feels like it’s been an eternity. It doesn’t feel like an eternity in the “I’ve been waiting ages for another Strokes album” sense, it’s more of in a “I can’t believe how much has changed in both my life and the world at large since then” kind of way. Just a few things that’ve happened since then: I witnessed my city get hit by and heal from the Marathon Bombing, watched the Red Sox win the World Series twice, helped my sister move, saw the Patriots win the Super Bowl three times, got into college, graduated college and got my first job out of college. More than that has happened, but you’re here for an album review, not 25% of my life story. I’ll get to talking about “The New Abnormal” in a bit, but just a few more points before I do.
I’ll be one of the first to defend Comedown Machine. I didn’t share the overly negative sentiments of fans and critics alike when it first came out, and to this day I still don’t. I can’t put my finger on why it was so hated at the time. Was it because it was yet another shift away from their original sound? Think about it this way: Angles was more than enough proof that they would never go back to the sound of Is This It. They clearly never wanted to - this is a band that’s never made the same album twice, at least sonically speaking. That is what confuses me about why people recoiled from Comedown Machine when it came out. We should have seen it coming! Obviously, context isn’t everything - there’s also the argument of quality. I think it’s about on par with Angles, although maybe just a tad better. I can completely understand the disappointment it was for many of the band’s long-time fans though. While I like most of the album, I will admit that none of the songs really have that classic Strokes flair. They’re good enough, yes, but I suppose something is indeed missing. Well at any rate, at least it’s better than First Impressions of Earth (yes, I went there).
A few years after Comedown Machine we got the Future Present Past EP, and maaaan does that EP exist! Other than that The Strokes have been pretty much dead silent since 2013. There was of course Julian’s album with The Voidz, a few festival appearance here and there, and a performance at a Bernie Sanders rally (RIP to his campaign, btw). But other than that, I really can’t recall much of anything from The Strokes’ timeline since then. So, finally here we are with a new album. With the reception it’s been getting so far, I’m excited. Let’s see what’s in store.
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Good stuff! Production is crystal clear and the writing is noticeably better than their previous 3 efforts. Safe to say this is their third best record. I’ll try to summarize at the end after I’ve laid out my thoughts for some specific tracks. Without further ado, First Impressions of The New Abnormal.
“The Adults Are Talking”: The guitars sound great across the board. Excellent use of different guitar textures across the track, and I love the way Albert and Nick play off each other at the 1:45 mark. It’s one of the standout moments in their discography where the two of them are complimenting each other perfectly rather than one of them acting as support for the other. It’s also quite catchy despite not having a singular phrase or melody that you can define as being a ‘hook’. Julian’s use of falsetto is tasteful and sounds really good too.
“Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus”, This one’s basically “One Way Trigger” but not complete ass. Truth be told, I thought One Way Trigger was the worst song on Comedown Machine and one of the group’s weakest songs to date, but this song aims for a similar sound and pulls it off well. The synths may border on 80’s cheese a little bit, but this time the vocal mixing fits the rest of the instrumentation. The vocal performance itself isn’t an annoyance this time either. The guitar arpeggios in the choruses are also a nice touch.
“Bad Decisions”: Wonderful, hands down the best track here. That lead guitar is splendid! I was losing my hair trying to figure out where I’ve heard that guitar tone before, and it just hit me a few minutes ago. You know that song that’s been in countless commercials for chocolate, I Melt With You by Modern English (“I’ll stop the world and melt with you”)? That one. It sounds almost identical, and if that isn’t 80’s homage, I don’t know what is. Another thing that jumps out to me are Julian’s ‘yeah’s at 3:45. Now, Julian has sang passionately in the past, but that’s the first time that he’s actually gotten through to me. The emotion in that delivery is almost palpable.
“Eternal Summer”: This is the first song here that makes a few mistakes. One is being a bit too long. I think that’s just an issue with the band in general, that they simply aren’t capable of writing 6 minute songs. Nearly half of the songs here are 5 minutes or longer, but personally this is the one that’s most at fault for being longwinded. Another aspect I’m not too hot on are Julian’s almost shouty vocals that appear multiple times in the song. They’re slightly distorted which doesn’t bode well with the clean instrumental. The instrumental itself is great though, especially the opening thirty seconds. But again, it could’ve benefitted from a bit of trimming.
“At the Door”: I’m glad I didn’t jump on this track when it came out in February, because if I had, I would not have been very excited for “The New Abnormal”. This isn’t to say it’s a bad song, it’s not, but it’s certainly not the type of song to get me ‘excited’ for a new release. They’ve written ballads before, most of which stand out stylistically from the tracks that surround them on their respective albums, and this one is no different. I appreciate the attempt at something different once again, but I’m not exactly raving about this one.
“Not the Same Anymore”: Another slower track, and one that’s pretty damn long too. I have no issues with the length on this one because the song goes through enough phases to warrant its run-time, but like “Eternal Summer”, I suppose it could’ve also been a bit shorter and not lost much value. Now that I think about it, this album does have quite a few more slower songs than their previous releases, doesn’t it?
“Ode to the Mets”: Good song, but I just have one question. How this related to the Mets? I know it’s a homage to NYC, but at least on “New York City Cops” the title made sense. In this instance it just seems like a namedrop and nothing more. Either way, this is easily the strongest of the longer tracks on here and one of the best tracks overall. Certainly feels like a closer and does the job quite well, unlike Edwin Díaz.
~ So there you go, those were my thoughts on “The New Abnormal”. It won’t go down in history or anything, but it is a welcome addition to The Strokes’ catalogue. They finally took a step in a new direction and actually had the quality tunes to back it up, so kudos to them. I can only imagine what’s next for the band, but knowing them it’ll be at least a decade before we find out.