By: Ben Brown
In 2001, The Strokes’ debut album, Is This It, set the rock world on fire with many critics saying it revitalized rock and roll. The strokes continued to make 4 more albums until 2013, when suddenly the band seemed to fizzle out.
For many Strokes fans, it seemed that after the 2013 album, Comedown Machine, the Strokes were done playing together and were going to commit to other projects, with frontman Julian Casablancas forming a new band, the Voidz, and guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. pursuing his solo career.
Then 2020 began. The last time we’d gotten a new Strokes album, the office was still airing its final season, the newest marvel movie was the Avengers, the top song of the year was Thrift Shop, and I had just turned 10. At the turn of the decade, the Strokes seemed to be fizzling into the past, forever to be remembered as “that early 2000s rock band.”
But like an old man on a skateboard, the rock band that ran roughshod on the 2000s, hit us with a style-clashing kickflip of an album. A kickflip that not only reminded us what we loved about the Strokes, but also showed us that genres and labels cannot pin this free spirit down.
Ever since their debut album, fans have raved on and on about how the Strokes will never match the “perfection” of 2001’s Is This It, and have begged for a return to the style that they fell in love with, but the Strokes responded not by staying static, but pushing themselves musically to create something different every album.
With 2020’s The New Abnormal, the Strokes have not only pushed the boundaries of their genre beyond the limit, they showed us that they haven’t forgotten their garage rock roots. They encapsulate us with the beloved sound of the 2000s while simultaneously blowing us away with their ability to incorporate New Wave, of all things, into garage rock.
The Strokes have been dabbling in new wave ideas and a heavy synth sound for the past few albums, and this album is the payoff of all that experimentation, with experimental masterpieces such as Eternal Summer, that sound as if they were created in another universe.
The album exists on a sort of spectrum. With one end being new wave/electronic and the other end being the classic Strokes sound, laden with scratchy, distorted vocals and a heavy emphasis on the rough, edgy guitar duo.
The songs At the Door and Eternal Summer are the most new wave sounding songs on the album. This side of the spectrum is almost entirely electronic and Casablancas experiments much more with his range and style.
At the opposite end of the spectrum you have songs like Not the Same Anymore and Ode to the Mets. These songs stick much more to the typical rock structure of guitars, drums, and vocals. Casablancas’ voice has less variety in his range but has much more emotional depth.
Despite such a large range of style, this album knows exactly what it is, there isn’t a moment where it struggles to find its identity.
The album’s progression is like a guided tour through the band’s style, with the overall experience feeling like a highlight reel of 19 years of Strokes history.
The opening song, The Adults Are Talking, is heavy on electronic drum beats and experimental guitar, with an impressive showing of Casablancas’ falsetto and a mesmerizing back and forth between the two guitarists. The electric drums clashing against the guitars introduces you to the theme of this album right off the bat—how the different styles of the Strokes interact with each other.
The song Selfless has a very dreamy sound, established by Casablanca’s falsetto and the sweet tone of the guitar duo.
Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus and Bad Decisions take you back to the 80s with Bad Decisions literally taking the melody of Dancing With Myself by Billy Idol.
Eternal Summer and At the Door close out the clashiness of the album with At the Door being a masterclass in new wave sound.
Why Are Sundays so Depressing sounds a lot like something off of the Strokes 2011 album, Angles. It isn’t as extreme as the rest of the album’s new wave sound, but still isn’t 100% classic Strokes sound.
Now we’re finally here. The closing stretch (and my personal favorite part of the album by far). The songs Not the Same Anymore and Ode to the Mets, in my opinion, are the culmination of 19 years of the Strokes evolving and discovering their sound.
Not the Same Anymore doesn’t take any time getting started. The guitar duo establishes the tone of the song right off the bat. They’re letting you know “this is the Strokes you’ve been asking for.” As soon as they’ve given you what you need to know what this song is all about the first verse begins (which uses the same melody as 2001’s When it Started). The Strokes built their style on establishing a very palpable emotion through instituting sounds from the past and lyrics that stimulate your sense of nostalgia. This song does exactly that and never loses your attention.
Ode to the Mets begins with one last electronic instrumental. This slowly fades into a duet of rhythm guitar and the main melody of the same being played on synth. The more intense, emotional moments are marked by the fading into obscurity under the guitars as they dominate the musical space. The finale of the album is an outpouring of nostalgia ladden lyrics hoisted into the air by the guitars, that are the musical representation of a long life slowly winding down as Casablacnas sings of “the old ways, long forgotten”.
The New Abnormal is a testament to the history of the Strokes and the culmination of 19 years of rock progression. It takes the tone the Strokes have established over the years and uses ideas from other genres to create something we’ve felt like we’ve never heard before.
The New Abnormal should be on the “must listen” list of anyone who appreciates the Strokes or appreciates music at all.