Photo Credit: Jason McDonald
When the twenty-first century began, the garage band revival spearheaded by bands like the White Stripes looked to become the defining rock trend of the moment. Unfortunately, the Seattle grunge scene of a decade earlier had left popular culture somewhat (and needlessly) obsessed with geographic centralization, so because the garage rock bands were spread out as far as Sweden (The Hives), Australia (The Vines) and New York City (The Strokes), the entire movement not only failed to make its promised impact but rock has not really claimed a major presence on the pop charts or hit radio airwaves since. The Strokes, however, have managed to survive by adapting a more slow and steady sound that has allowed them to stand out from the crowd and carve out their own unique niche while maintaining a loyal fan base. The extraordinarily long gap between a few of their major releases only seems to have helped: The New Abnormal, the Strokes’ first new album in seven years, entered both the US and UK charts in the Top Ten.
True to its title, The New Abnormal includes its share of both surprises and familiar elements, starting with the opening track “The Adults Are Talking”, which is characteristically subtle of the band’s trademark sound but also leans just enough towards inspiration from the Cars or the Talking Heads. The Strokes clearly have the Eighties on the brain throughout much of the album, most notably on the synth cut “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus”, which includes the lyric: “And the Eighties song, how did it go?” They certainly remember how a few Eighties songs went, anyway, going as far as to offer songwriting co-credits due to the resemblance of several of the songs to those from that decade. This is most obvious (and justified) on “Eternal Summer”, which includes a section that scares up the Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” pretty much note-for-note.
By contrast, it was perhaps a questionable decision to give Billy Idol a co-credit for the jangly “Bad Decisions” (one of the album’s best tracks), as the alleged similarity to the British rocker’s “Dancing with Myself” is nowhere near as apparent (it can be argued that it sounds just as much like Modern English’s “I Melt With You”, but we’ll let them fight it out). “Not the Same Anymore” goes back a bit further in the rock time machine as the token Beatles tribute, actually sounding a bit closer to some of John Lennon’s solo work (particularly the song “I’m Losing You”). Still, at their weakest, the Strokes can tend to drag a bit, as evidenced by several cuts on The New Abnormal. Such as the mid-tempo “Selfless” and especially the droning synth of “At the Door”, which until picking up towards the end mostly sounds like some kid playing with his new Casio on Christmas morning.
The album closes with “Ode to the Mets,” the title of which we can imagine is both the band’s way of reminding everyone that they’re from New York City and that they’re still avant-garde (the lyrics make no mention of the team or baseball). Will all of this be enough to keep the Strokes rowing forward through the musical waters of the 2020s and beyond? The New Abnormal suggests that it will.