The first few years of the 21st Century experienced an eruption of garage rock revival bands that in the end had no choice to bend their collective knee to The Strokes. Storming out of the underground of New York City, they lit it up with three near perfect records in rapid succession.
It was the music played at downtown bars and late night parties while mere strangers were hooking up in the bathroom of your apartment. They were made in the quintessential image of rockstars before slowly dissipating out of the indie rock forefront. Since their “holy trinity” of early records, however, the three that followed have largely failed to live up to their predecessors, remaining mostly polarizing among critics and purist fans.
Now, nearly twenty years since Is This It, your quintessential rockstars have returned to reclaim the throne with their seventh studio album The New Abnormal, a title that speaks perfectly to our current life, times, & state of affairs.
Channeling 1980s New Wave sound vibes reminiscent of bands like The Cure and The Cars, the digital and electronic sounds that began to creep in ever more after First Impressions of Earth are given their biggest spotlight yet. If you are an all-too rare fan of 2013’s Comedown Machine, there’s a good chance you’ll love this record. Don’t get the wrong idea, the base notes retain their rumble, their signature guitar sounds are brighter, lighter, but somehow the same as ever, with Casablancas’ lyrics and melodies top tier; among his best yet.
Casablancas’ melancholy, rivaled only by perhaps Conor Oberst, is as relatable as ever; piercing you somewhere between nostalgia for the past and longing for the future, leaving you impossibly in this moment. As if he’s saying, yes, this really is it.
As a whole, The New Abnormal sounds like their first three and second three records birthed a melodic rock lovechild.
“The Adults Are Talking,” the album’s opening act, sets the stage for the largely, however vague, political themes and references scattered throughout the album (not that they were all that quiet about their stance when they performed at a rally in support of the now defunct Sanders presidential campaign earlier this year). This is but one theme intermingled amongst Casablancas’ nonlinear storytelling and moments self examination. What is to be most appreciated about his lyrics is how they allow the listener to insert their own meaning or relation to the song instead of feeling boxed out of an experience—that’s hard working poetry. Although lines like “we’re trying hard to get your attention / we’re climbing up your walls” and “now you did something wrong and said it was great” are a bit too glaring to ignore. The song title itself references the idea that any generation to come after the boomers will always be seen as sitting at the kid’s table, mistaking progress for puerility.
The opening notes of “Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus” perk the ears and may very well lead to spontaneous dance parties. The song is among the catchiest and most memorable off the record driven by the chorus, perhaps a reflection on how the band’s popularity slowed, a longing for connection, or perhaps the pitfalls of success; “I want new friends but they don’t want me / they have some fun but then they just leave.” The haunting funeral march vibes sparking off of the spared down “At The Door” drone on slowly as Casablancas croons what might be his most vulnerable lyrics on the album. The nine tracks total forty-five minutes of play with some songs pushing the six minute mark or beyond—something new for this group. In the suitably chosen closing track, “Ode To The Mets,” which seems to be anything but that for the hapless ball club, proves that no one has the ability to drop a burn as cuttingly sardonic quite like Casablancas does in his near mumble “I was just bored / playing my guitar / learned all your tricks / wasn’t too hard.”
If you missed or forgot that their quietly released sixth album existed, you’ll have a hard time missing this album at your local record shop as its cover is emblazoned with Basquiat’s colorful “Bird on Money.” As referenced in “Why Are Sundays So Depressing,”
The Strokes are still hungry—let’s feed them. Fear not children, your quarantine record has finally arrived.