Cult/RCA, 2020

Indie rock/Post-punk/New wave

I know, this is out of order in terms of release date. But I needed a little extra time to form my opinions on this one, and I really wanted to get the Fiona Apple review out. (Translation: I was lazy and didn’t put in the work to get this out two weeks ago.) Anyway, we have a new Strokes album! The New Abnormal comes seven years after the band’s last full-length release, 2013’s Comedown Machine, an album so lazy that it barely has any artwork on the cover. After that stinker came at the end of a line of albums of gradually decreasing quality, I think the world was ready for a little break from The Strokes.

Now that they’re back, have they put their time off to good use and returned triumphantly? Maybe not triumphantly, but there’s definitely some good stuff here. The album starts off very strongly with the first three tracks sounding like The Strokes at their best. They feel like the obvious evolution of the sound laid out in their first two albums with hints of new wave and some of Julian Casablancas’ best vocal work (on Strokes songs, anyway). The guitar tones and riffs take you right back to Is This It and Room On Fire without sounding like they’re pandering to fans of that era.

Unfortunately, this strong first leg is not indicative of the quality of the rest of the album. Act two kicks off with “Bad Decisions,” a song that sounds like a Strokes song and an ’80s new wave song crashed into each other. There’s even a songwriting credit for Billy Idol because the chorus interpolates the melody from “Dancing With Myself.” And to me, the verses sound like Modern English’s “I Melt with You.” Personally, these similarities are very distracting, but if you can get past them, the song actually isn’t that bad.

Then we come to the worst (and unfortunately, the longest) song on the album, “Eternal Summer.” It starts off trying to sound like an ’80s new wave pop song, with Julian employing a falsetto on the verses. And that wouldn’t be too bad if it stuck to that theme. But when they get to the chorus and post-chorus, it morphs into this weird, almost Pink Floyd-ish sound and there’s this high pitched note that some people have accurately described as sounding like screeching tires. And then the end just devolves into a mess before turning into something like Tame Impala psychedelia. It’s just too many ideas that didn’t fit together.

Act two ends with “At the Door,” a ballad heavy with ’80s synths and not much more. It’s not a bad song, I just feel like there’s some unrealized potential or a missed opportunity with where the arrangement could have gone. We then move on to act three with “Why Are Sundays So Depressing?” which is another song that feels like it’s made up of a couple different ideas that just don’t really jibe with each other. The remaining tracks are on-brand for The Strokes, but just really aren’t that remarkable. “Not the Same Anymore” in particular goes into this extended instrumental outro and stays almost a minute longer than it has to.

Despite all my complaining, The New Abnormal isn’t an awful album or even really a bad one. And if you compare it to the band’s output immediately prior to it, it’s absolutely a step in the right direction. Some of the songs here represent their best work in 15 years or more. It’s just that they’re unfortunately weighed down by some equally bad songwriting, missed opportunities, and distracting references to other genres. Hopefully The Strokes will continue on this path and deliver another great album to us in the future.



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