After a prolonged hiatus, New York City fops The Strokes return with their first album for seven years. The break, as John Earls observes, has done them a world of good…
The Strokes – The New Abnormal
Having arrived perfectly formed out of nowhere 19 years ago with Is This It, the expectations around The Strokes’ new album are pretty much zero all over again. Previous albums Angles and Comedown Machine were, respectively, barely passable and worse than that. The band were hardly speaking and, at the few shows they played, it seemed they were only there for the cheque.
There have been signs The Strokes wanted to be The Strokes again. Their Hyde Park show in 2015 was good fun, not a word that had been associated with them in some time: you could sense what they’d been aiming to do on previously negligible songs such as Welcome To Japan. The following year’s Future Present Past EP wasn’t exactly stuffed with bangers, but at least sounded the work of a band acknowledging each other’s existence. Now, finally, The Strokes sound like the five coolest people in New York all over again. They’ve musically matured. On Is This It, they wouldn’t have been capable of a song as yearning and deep in regret as Not The Same Anymore, which is the sort of fully-realised stadium ballad The Strokes should have been making for at least a decade by now. If it’s two minutes too long, Eternal Summer is similarly poised.
So, sure, The Strokes are all grown up and putting their differences aside. The really unexpected joy is that Hyde Park’s sense of mischief is all over The New Abnormal, too. You’ll know by now how Bad Decisions is a daft update of Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself. Just as ridiculous is Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus, which swaps Idol for The Bangles’ back catalogue. Seemingly having exorcised his frustrations in The Voidz, Julian Casablancas’ lyrics and vocals are playful, the band rallying behind him as ingenious as they ever were. Rick Rubin does a great job producing, but this is less Johnny Cash-era sombre Rubin than the sonic prankster of Run-DMC and Beastie Boys: the literally barking riff of Why Are Sundays So Depressing? isn’t something The Strokes have had so much fun with since at least You Only Live Once. There are 25 other ideas going on in the same song, yet Rubin keeps them all working together just fine. Not everything here is perfect. The dirge-like At The Door was a ropey choice of first single and drags the middle of the album down here. Ode To The Mets is a decent enough ballad, but is too earnest to deserve closing an album with so much energy.
Who knows if The New Abnormal proves to be a final hurrah or the momentum to propel The Strokes into a new creative odyssey. Does it even matter? After all, we’ve finally got The Strokes’ first great album since First Impressions Of Earth 14 years ago. At last, audiences won’t just be waiting for Last Nite and NYC Cops next time they’re on tour. It’s time to cheer for the new tunes in concert, too.