Is This It was the most important rock and roll record of a generation. It is also one of my personal favourite albums ever. The Strokes arrived with a sound that was so effortlessly cool, laced in top-shelf influences such as The Velvet underground, Television, The Replacements, The Ramones, and Buddy Holly, but still maintaining a sound that was entirely fresh and exciting. That record changed everything. Well, if you know, you know.
During the next couple of decent-enough records we saw a band begin to lose its magic. The Strokes would soon begin to lose control of The Strokes bus, and with 2013’s misguided Comedown Machine, they were to skid the fucker right off the road. It was like Casablancas desperately wanted to move away from the garagy, no-bullshit rock and roll sound of Is This It. The more his interest in The Strokes strayed, the more mine did, too. And so, I had little optimism for new album. To say the least. It would also be fair to say that I am not convinced by band comebacks anyway. I question the reason for their return, their current relevance to the musical landscape; I struggle to forget past crimes. Your ex is an ex for a reason…
I was, therefore, quite surprised that the opener to new album The New Abnormal, is something of a belter. ‘The Adults Are Talking’ is built around a particularly infectious little melody; it’s fun, tightly played with clinical rhythm, and one of the most catchy choruses you could ask for. This has always been a notable skill of Casablancas and co. Their ability to write exceptionally addictive, hook-filled pop songs has seemingly been effortless. The New Abnormal exhibits this ability as potently as ever, and because of this, all nine of the tracks are, at their core, enjoyable.
It is to The Strokes’ credit that each of the tracks on their new album has its own distinct style and personality, despite never veering too far from their key sound. However, with the employment of overproduction, guitar and vocal effects, and regular kitsch retro-music references, it can feel slightly lame, adding tackiness where it isn’t really needed. Like, for example, the generic eighties pop synth-line (in a similar vein to that utilised on Casablanca’s 11th Dimension) that ‘Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus’ is built around. Perhaps the biggest miscue of the album, however, is ‘Eternal Summer’, which feels so overproduced and slick. It has the feel of some old AOR track, as if you’re listening to Foreigner or REO Speedwagon. You could almost imagine a leather jacket wearing Jeremy Clarkson enjoying it with the top of his car down whilst driving up the dual carriageway.
For the most part, however, The New Abnormal is full of well-written and executed tracks that are hearty, dancefloor-ready, and at times nostalgic. From the genuinely soulful and romantic ‘Selfless’, to the Cure-esque jangle guitar-picking of ‘Bad Decisions’ and the phenomenal ‘Ode to the Mets’. For my money, leading single ‘At the Door’ holds up as one of the finest moments. It’s a stripped back, synth-driven champion of a track that allows Casablancas’ crooning so much space for impact. The track breaks into a crazy little prog outing, like a medley of rare vintage film soundtracks. Throughout the album, The Strokes play tightly and with energy and Casablancas shows off his frankly brilliant range, from low, slurred crooning to full falsetto.
I have really enjoyed The New Abnormal. It’s a patchy record, but one that’s neither attempted to relive seminal glories or lose itself in strange new worlds, and despite faults with the album, its genuinely good to have The Strokes back for a bit.
Words by Mike Hull