In a rare act of productivity in these strange times, here I am reviewing the Strokes’ latest offering. Their new album is called, very very very aptly, The New Abnormal.
I’ve listened to it front to back for around 24 hours on a near unbroken loop now. Over the course of this period I have been relaxed and mellow, then tipsy and joyful, then a hammered lunatic, then asleep for a bit, then an amorphous hungover stain on my bedroom floor. This is a great album for all of those things. It boosted me up while I was tanning pints of Guinness in the garden. It soothes me now, as I slouch at my desk, an idiot goblin.
It’s hard not to feel Julian Casablancas wrote this album on a similar vibe – if you can call sitting hungover in a pair of swimming trunks, bloated to hell from your second, disgustingly unnecessary bowl of tuna pasta a ‘vibe’. The boisterous chug of the Strokes – the chug that millions of twenty-somethings still bop along to at indie nights around the globe two decades years later – is quite absent on The New Abnormal. In its place you’ll find synth funk, dreamy psychedelia, effervescent guitar licks, and thoughtful lyrics passionately delivered. Good for dossing about in the sunshine. Good for boozy picnics. To be honest, it’s a very bloody good lockdown record. I’m not trying to start any conspiracy theories, but it’s almost as if they knew.
My highlight is ‘Bad Decisions’, the first single off the album, debuted in February at a Bernie Sanders rally in New Hampshire (woop). The track details the band’s feelings over leaving behind their early sound – the sound many fans still love and call for. It’s a classic conundrum for a band: do you give the people what they want, or do you go your own way and explore whichever avenues the creative urge leads you down, critics and consensus be damned? On this track, which draws heavily from Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing With Myself’, they’re addressing the issue head on – with panache enough to satisfy all parties.
Eternal Summer has a balmy swagger to it and an 80’s electro shimmer;think Gary Numan on a lilo, sipping a cocktail as he drifts around Scarface’s swimming pool. Other stand-out tracks include the glassy-synths of Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus, a nostalgic glance into bygone decades and a comment on youthful alcohol abuse (ahem), and Selfless, a fuzzy lovelorn daydream, elevated by Casablancas’ eyebrow-raising falsetto; dazzling, tender highs which must have – ironically enough – taken some hefty gonads.
There’s a startling candidness and a naked sincerity throughout. Casablancas sings about wanting friends. He sings about missing loved ones. He sings about dancing on moonbeams. There’s no posturing here; the boys aren’t messing around. After distancing themselves from their releases in the 2010’s, The New Abnormal is the Strokes making the music they want to be making. For that, we should all be glad.