If you crack open my skull, you’ll see the lyrics to “Last Nite” etched perfectly at the back of my mind. The song, perhaps The Strokes’ most popular track, is from their undeniably influential album Is This It. The album was so successful, in fact, that it eclipsed much of their later work. 19 years after the album’s debut and in the middle of a pandemic, the band is making a comeback with the prophetic and aptly named album The New Abnormal. On top of upbeat sounds and melodic ballads, The Strokes reflects on their past, present and future.
Is it good, though? The short answer is yes. My god, yes.
At a New Year’s Eve show in New York City, when Julian Casablancas announced the new album and the band premiered “Ode to the Mets,” I was beyond stoked. Now, despite the world being chaotic, I find myself wearing a big, almost idiotic grin on my face when I play the entirety of The New Abnormal on repeat, as I have been doing frequently since the morning of its release. Not only does the album sound phenomenal, but it also explores topics from climate change (which the title references) to the band’s strained relationship with fan expectations while offering a hopeful look into their future.
Clocking in at 45 minutes, The New Abnormal is a short and emotionally-packed journey. “The Adults Are Talking” opens the album with rebellious lyrics against a backdrop of catchy drum beats and basslines. Casablancas croons in the usual “Strokes-esque” manner about “trying hard to get your attention,” with “your” referencing people of power — a common motif throughout the band’s discography. The title itself implies the tendency with which discussions among leaders (“the adults”) often leave out and silence people’s voices.
“Bad Decisions” is perhaps one of the most contextually interesting tracks in the album. The lyrics “dropped down the light, I’m sitting with you… Moscow, 1972” refers to the band wanting to reach a peace treaty with their fans by alluding to the Moscow Summit of 1972. The song also references their old albums: “pick up your gun” and “put up those gloves” refer to objects in the cover art of their second and first albums, respectively. The “bad decision” here is the band feeling torn between following a new musical direction or giving fans the old sounds they crave, before finally caving in and copying music of past times.
The album climaxes with “At the Door.” The first time I listened to this song was during a livestream of The Strokes performing at the Bernie Sanders rally in New Hampshire (a crossover I didn’t know I needed until it happened). From the opening synth to the raw vocals, the track takes me along an emotional journey where one “might never make it ‘till the end.” Then, when Casablancas raises his voice at “struck me like a chord” and a literal chord plays, despite the depressing lyrics, the song lifts me up into a state of euphoria. It’s simply beautiful.
The album ends on a powerful and hopeful note with “Ode to the Mets.” In line with the crescendo pattern present throughout the album, the song goes for a minute and a half before Casablancas turns away from the mic and says “drums, please, Fab.” At that moment, things fall into place as the drums kick in. The line is an intimate moment, something that we all crave, especially in times of isolation. Considering the history of discord amongst members of the band during their career, it was great to hear a casual exchange, even only briefly. The song slowly picks up, culminating in a grand minute of Casablancas pouring his heart into the mic, singing “the old ways at the bottom of… the ocean now has swallowed… the only thing that’s left is us.” Perhaps, it’s the band’s way of saying they are ready to leave behind the expectations that have been weighing them down. Now, only The Strokes remain.
I am genuinely excited for whatever the band has to offer in the future. Once, they were dubbed some sort of savior of rock, so it’s no wonder fans have high expectations for all their releases. But their audience needs to realize not every album can be a revolution. They make music. And if it’s music you enjoy, it’s good music. For that, I can safely say, The New Abnormal is it.
Article Thumbnail: Roger Woolman / CC BY