While the whole World is talking about "The New Normal", The Strokes reappear with a 6th album. Creepily premonitory The New Abnormal defies the current reality not only title-wise, but also mood-wise. If you have been looking for a cure against all Covid19-related mental illnesses, that’s the closest you will get.
The opening track announces the return of the New-York rock scene revivers with their classic Strokes riffs. The Adults Are Talking is a rhythmic and catchy tune that sounds strong at first, but is actually just setting the stage for something even grander.
The melancholic Selfless gets introduced with a sparkly synth, which somewhat reminds us of Baltimore band Beach House’s dreamy sound. And it doesn’t seem to be the only influence. As soon as the guitars join in, Julian Casablancas’ band The Voidz’ stamp appears clearly through their distorted synthy sound.
The following Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus comes across as a caricature of an 80’s hit, with tacky guitar riffs and almost childish keyboard notes. The lyrics also slam the decade, but the catchiness of the track gives it the potential to become a club anthem if you subscribe to the genre.
Bad Decisions is very obviously inspired by Dancing With Myself, and it doesn’t come as a surprise the band found itself crediting Billy Idol and Tony James! It has the qualities of a decent Strokes track, but doesn’t have much more to offer than its original source of inspiration.
Now, Eternal Summer is up there on the podium of the album’s finest treats. The track delivers a groovy beat, that will most certainly lead you to shake your head, hips, stomp your feet, or all of the above. Casablancas’ vocals oscillate between the high pitch soothing verses and a deeper angry voice shouting the chorus. The result sounds like a schizophrenic conversation backed by Nikolai Fraiture’s rhythmic bass line, and followed with screaming guitars that will haunt you with good vibrations.
The first single of the album At The Door seems to have been put out as a trompe l’oeil, leading the fans to expect another rather electronic release in the lines of the 2011 Angles, which had already proven the band’s skills in favouring keyboards at the expense of the distinctive guitars. The outcome is probably the most powerful song on the album, with an introduction to the “door” theme that will become recurrent throughout the second half of the record.
Indeed, Julian Casablancas appears to have a taste for leading themes directing his lyrics through an album. The Voidz’ very political last record Virtue was clearly revolving around the notions of truth and lies. On The New Abnormal, the door image also reoccurs in Not The Same Anymore and Ode To The Mets.
Why Are Sunday’s So Depressing acts as a soothing cure to the tragic end of the weekend, with a guitar riff that inevitably reminds us of a slower, gentler version of Ize Of The World from the band’s 2006 album First Impressions Of Earth. The track ends with a snippet of some classic Strokes goofing around to uplift the mood, before paving the way for some deeper emotions.
So, Not The Same Anymore will be the underrated masterpiece of The New Abnormal. It is the materialisation of nostalgia. Lyrically, through the profound depiction of remorse and regret, as much as musically with the echoing guitars that evoke foggy memories - and who is not a victim of them, especially these days?
But when you thought it couldn’t get better, it turns out the band wouldn’t have settled for any less than a grand finale to conclude their 45-minute delight. And as you may have guessed, Ode To The Mets is NOT an ode to the American baseball team. To pursue on a tongue in cheek note, Julian Casablancas offers a little prop demanding “Drums please, Fab” to a supposedly daydreaming Moretti after the first verse. Casablancas carries on with a smile you can hear throughout the following line, until he eventually pours his heart in some poignant surrendering screams, that come across as a natural continuity to the previous track.
The fact that Casablancas has also turned down his signature vocal effects on most of the album, finally gives his lyrics the importance and depth they deserve. And by the time the record comes to an end, the only antidote to the amount of feelings that has built up, is to press the play button again.