This is probably the most topical and on-trend this column's got over its year of running now, where the clocks turn forward to 2020 and an album released just last week, The Strokes' brand-new The New Abnormal.
I took the time to review their sterling debut Is This It? around this last time last year, and The New Abnormal, after a seven year wait for fans worldwide, has certainly been worth the wait. Throughout the whole nine tracks, there's that signature sound running through it, with simple guitar licks and slightly muffled vocals from Julian Casablancas. That being said, there is plenty of new work here to marvel at; it's not a rerelease after all.
Whilst Pitchfork condemned this record to being "background music", that's a pretty unfair comparison. The likes of Selfless and The Adults Are Talking are typical Strokes, with a dreamy guitar riff, some light drums and Casablancas away with the clouds producing a great vocal. Certainly The Adults Are Talking will go down as one of their best work and continues a string of timeless and brilliant album openers, with some great falsetto as the song builds to its pleasing climax.
The likes of Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus, one of the more upbeat and head-bobbing tunes present here, remind us of one of the best decades in music history, the eighties, presenting a great tribute to Sheffield-based The Human League, in a song that draws some comparisons to their biggest hit, Don't You Want Me. This only helps along an otherwise pop-punk song that acted as the album's last single and one of its better tracks. Casablancas even chooses to make reference to such eighties bands with the question: "And the Eighties bands, where did they go?". In a similar vein, the second single (and following track) Bad Decisions points out inklings of New Order and a more classic Strokes sound not really seen in full force since their debut, proving that they have still got it, even after seven years away.
Eternal Summer leans on 10cc a little musically, with some of their work seeping through on the bridge and refrain, but it's a welcome nod to timeless music from a by-gone age. There's a fusing of old and new, with that groovy backing juxtaposed by a more modern, pop-sounding falsetto from Casablancas and that modernity is stringed through lyrics giving the band's take on climate change, as well as the title. Why Are Sunday's So Depressing draws on that iconic Strokes sound, with a relatively simple guitar line acting as the main source of an empty instrumental, and fuses it again with a Phil Oakey inspired vocal straight from Top Of The Pops. It's certainly a retro sound, which only makes it all the more pleasing, and that drawing on the past is what propels this album straight to the top of anyone's song selection.
What this record lacks in pace, it makes up for in overall instrumentation. Whilst standouts like Not The Same Anymore aren't exactly rocking numbers, the lounging style of them is what makes this record so accessible. Those opening lines and swaying backing are straight out of Alex Turner's vocabulary: "You're not the same anymore/Don’t wanna play that game anymore/You'd make a better window than a door" and sure, it's not the best piece of linguistic trickery, but then again, it doesn't have to be. The Strokes have never been a band built on the soaring soundscapes, nor immense Floydian guitar arias. Their music is utilitarian and functional. It does what it's meant to, and does it very well.
In terms of 2020's musical offerings, The New Abnormal really is up there with some of the best. Following a wait of seven years, it proves that The Strokes have still got it when it comes to creating what is their signature sound. There's plenty of depth, clever lyricism and a rugged sound that's sure to please new and old fans alike.
If you want to pick up a copy of this great record, I'll leave an affiliate link to Townsend Music here: https://townsendmusic.store/cart/product.php?id=60961&affcode=ue98o1
Or, if you'd prefer, here's a Spotify playlist:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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