Monday 20 April 2020

Review of 'The New Abnormal' by The Strokes

Is The New Abnormal worth the wait?

The world is currently in lockdown. We’ve all been doing a lot of waiting around. Evidently, so has Julian Casablancas. In fact, he spends much of the band’s first album in seven years singing about waiting.

I’ve waited so long’ he sings on ‘Bad Decisions’. ‘I waited for a century’ he then sings on ‘Selfless’. ‘Waiting for the tide to rise’ he continues to lament on ‘At The Door’. ‘I’m making your body wait’ he sings on ‘Sundays Are So Depressing’.

All the while, there I was, waiting for something exciting to happen on this record. And it doesn’t.

I apologise now to fans of this album, because you're going to hate me by the end of this review...

The New Abnormal does a great job of recapturing the sound of Is This It?. Unfortunately, Is This It? has never been my favourite Strokes album (blasphemy, I know! Who let this cretin start a music blog?). While I appreciate the legacy of that album, it was later that I really got into The Strokes when they started becoming more upbeat and instrumentally diverse. In fact, I believe they peaked at Angles.

The New Abnormal is largely made up of muted, breezy guitars. It has none of the uptempo feel or groove of latter era Strokes. Julian’s sighed out vocal delivery feels tired this time around rather than endearingly laid back, which isn’t helped by the dreary lyrics. Rick Rubin, who helped produce the album, may be to blame for the stale feel of it, given his recent reputation for awfully mixed records. At least on Is This It? some of the basslines jumped out, while everything here feels matte.

Rick Rubin producing this album

A few synths are tossed in on tracks like ‘Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus’, which add some novelty. In fact, ‘At The Door’ is all synths. I originally dismissed this single for not containing enough guitars, but in the context of the album it helps provide some variety, plus it contains one of Julian’s best vocal performances on a Strokes record (aside from the Yung-Lean-style autotune towards the end).

There are a few other tracks that feel like a bit of a departure from Is-This-It-style Strokes and that I did enjoy – until I realised that they sounded a little too similar to other songs. The guitars of ‘Bad Decisions’ are a little too reminiscent of ‘Dancing By Myself’ while ‘Eternal Summer’ is practically a slowed-down version of The Psychedelic Furs’ ‘The Ghost In You’. Both Billy Idol and the Butler brothers are credited in each case, but this only make the comparison more obvious (and in each case I’d rather hear the original).

Perhaps Julian was consciously trying to move away from the wackier material he was making with The Voidz. However, the result is a reined-in retread of old ground with some of the band’s most monotonous lyrics so far. ‘At The Door’ is the only truly adventurous song. Otherwise, there’s nothing new or abnormal about The New Abnormal.