THE STROKES The New Abnormal gets 6/10

The Strokes

The New Abnormal
Cult Records/RCA Records


We can definitively say now that once-proclaimed saviours of modern rock music The Strokes didn’t quite fill those shoes, even if their influence on the post-2000s indie landscape is set in stone. The band has had a quiet decade, with only two album releases in the 2010’s and both only hinting at their initial greatness. The New Abnormal is their first long player in seven years, but unfortunately it doesn’t see a drastic sea-change in how the long tail of the Strokes’ career will be measured.

This album’s biggest strength and weakness is that the band have decided to play it safe. There’s nothing here we haven’t seen on previous albums, the experimentation perhaps reserved for Casablancas’ wacko side-venture The Voidz. The upshot is that there are no horrific misfires. Moreso than the last two releases, these songs are largely built on the older Strokes formula of detached vocal cool and minimalist, chugging guitar/bass/drums (with an occasional synth thrown in). It’s a solid template that ensures all of these songs are catchy and coolly morose. The downside is that none of these songs fire off with the same fervour as old classics, with a consistently slow pace and low volume sapping them of any energy. Casablancas’ vocals are also intentionally off-kilter throughout, rendering these tracks unconvincing.

Opener The Adults Are Talking is a case in point, featuring a faceless riff and a strange, mush-mouthed delivery from Casablancas that sounds both tired and amateurish. Selfless has a nice enough melody but is spoiled by an unconvincing falsetto that Casablancas throws around all through this album. Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus tries to throw together Strokes cool with a Depeche Mode esque keyboard riff and a pop-punk chorus. It comes out empty handed. Eternal Summer forgetfully dips its toes in cheesy disco and features another weak turn from Casablancas on the chorus, his voice sounding too strained to be convincing.

Some songs do peak towards greatness. Bad Decisions (essentially a rewrite of Billy Idol’s 1981 hit Dancing with Myself) ups the speed and energy and in so doing captures some of that old Strokes charm. Closer Ode to the Mets is an effective finale, gradually rising over a dreary guitar and synth pattern and ending on an epic note. The lyrics tell an abstract self-history of the band, and feature bleakly brilliant lines like “Gone now are the old times/ Forgotten, time to hold on the railing/ The Rubik’s Cube isn’t solving for us”. The lyrics are a strong point throughout and give this album some replay value. Casablancas is reflecting on his life and tackling personal topics with greater humanity. At the Door is a standout, comparing feelings of love lost to imagery of a confused and abandoned child. And Not the Same Anymore, while musically rather tired, is a brutal rumination on past mistakes.

This is a conflicted album, with some shining moments and real lyrical meat on its bones. Unfortunately it falls short musically one too many times to be a strong recommendation. The Strokes still have it, but we’ll have to wait till next time for a definitive comeback.