It was back in 2013 when the seminal alternative rock band The Strokes released their previous record “Comedown Machine.” However, this isn’t to say that the band members haven’t been keeping busy since then. Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. released two delightfully playful alternative albums titled “Monetary Masters” and “Francis Trouble,” and leadman Julian Casablancas fronted a new alternative outfit called The Voidz, who came out with “Tyranny” and “Virtue.”
What is most interesting about the latter is that on “Virtue,” The Voidz performed with a glitzy hypnogogic sound that was foreign to what The Strokes had established, and this could be just the shake-up that Casablancas needed. The past couple of albums from The Strokes underwhelmed fans as many believed that the band had lost the spark of their earlier years, a spark that influenced many other famous bands from The Killers to Arctic Monkeys.
Now with seven years of hiatus filled with trying out new sounds in different projects, just last Friday, The Strokes have released their first album of the new decade: “The New Abnormal.” With legendary producer Rick Rubin in the mix, The Strokes indulge in the 80’s new-wave style present in The Voidz’s music and pair it with their familiar exuberant songwriting. No song on the album better exemplifies this than “Bad Decisions.”
Delightfully, the glam guitars and weighty mixing in “Bad Decisions” mesh very well with The Strokes’ impression alongside the incorporated melody from Generation X’s “Dancing with Myself.” Casablancas overlays this with reminiscent lyrics about how bad decisions were made as The Strokes began to alienate fans with their later releases. The Strokes throw man allusions to their past works in “The New Abnormal” to supply the remindful theme of the album. Included are “Pick up your gun / Put up those gloves,” referencing the album covers for the band’s first two and most celebrated records “Room on Fire” and “Is This It.” “But we lost this game / So many times before” from the track “At the Door” refers to their song “Games,” this time in the context of not achieving goals.
In between the sentiments of The Strokes’ successes and failure, Casablancas also sings the usual fare of social commentaries throughout the album. Although hearing about rebellion for the seemingly hundredth time in “The Adults Are Talking” might get tiring and listening to the pretentious “woke” outlook about climate change presented in “Eternal Summer” may get old, this is nothing new for The Strokes. However, the fact that “The New Abnormal” focuses on so many themes may be one of its most significant issues. From each track, ideas can bounce around from apostasy to broken relationships to an introspective look on the band’s career all too quickly. It’s not helpful that there are only nine tracks on the album, so none of the themes get to be as fleshed out as they could be.
Furthermore, there is an incongruity with some songs working well with the new sound and others being relatively flat. As mentioned before, tracks like “Bad Decisions” are well arranged to sound like a homage to famous acts such as New Order, but other tracks such as “Ode To The Mets” seem aimless with the new instrumentation. Luckily, this is slightly mediated by stellar performances by all the band members, notably Casablancas on vocals.
For a casual Strokes album, “The New Abnormal” is solid. It seems like the band still has a way to go in finding their footing in bringing what Casablancas had going on with The Voidz into The Strokes. Hopefully, it doesn’t take them another seven years to release a more focused record.