Review: The New Abnormal isn’t The Strokes’ norm

Their signature nostalgic sound is still prominent, but new stylistic approaches make the music even better.

The cover art for The Strokes latest album.

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The cover art for The Strokes’ latest album.

Hanna Malone, Staff Writer

Widely regarded as one of the most distinguished indie-rock bands, The Strokes are known for their catchy hooks—often experimenting with new guitar riffs and progressions; however, they somehow manage stay true to themselves by retaining their signature underground sound with a slight synth-pop influence. Returning from a seven year hiatus, The New Abnormal is The Strokes’ sixth LP with the last album, Comedown Machine, being released in 2013.

The band serves as somewhat of a legacy among garage rock and post-punk revival culture, having inspired some of the most popularized alternative artists today such as The Killers, Circa Waves, Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys.

Though they do experiment, the new album does not stray too far from its predecessors, taking most of its influence from their 2006 album First Impressions of Earth. The songs are all pieced together similarly by using relatively simple chord progressions paired with collections of melodic lines, then combining the riffs with the uniqueness of lead-singer Julian Casablancas’ rangy—yet fatigued and disinterested—voice. Overall the band’s sound embodies early 2000’s grunge, encompassing the age of alternative rock and nostalgia.

One of the big factors in the album’s newer sound is the fact that The New Abnormal was produced by Rick Rubin, who put his signature spin on things by compressing the audio and bumping up the instrumental volume to create a new air to the music.  Now, I’m not particularly upset about this, because I do enjoy the new sound. After all, every album can’t be the exact same as the last.

The opening track of the album, “The Adults Are Talking,” is peaceful, fluid and just upbeat enough to have you humming the tune for days on end. The backtrack takes a main focus on the bass, with a similar chord progression as many other songs by The Strokes. Casablancas sings about the higher-ups in society, giving the lyrics a rebellious and political undertone in contrast to the uncharacteristically soft instrumentals and mumbling vocals.

If I was forced to pick a least favorite song, it would have to be “Ode to the Mets”, though it isn’t terrible by any means, it simply does not fit my personal taste in music. The hook is pretty videogame-esque, and reminds me a little bit of New Order’s style, but the vocals are slow and drawn out. As the final song in the album, the sentimental lyrics and hushed instrumentals only make sense as the band pays homage to New York City—the place where they grew up and got their start.

“Bad Decisions” was the first official single from The New Abnormal to be released, and it’s honestly one of my favorites. The song’s chorus sounds eerily similar to that of Billy Idol’s single “Dancing With Myself”, and by deliberately replicating the sound it alludes to the lyrics’ connotation of the fear of unoriginality and brings back rock and roll simultaneously.

For years, the band has dealt with fans who have been unwilling to let go of the old concepts of previous albums such as This Is It and Room On Fire. In the post-chorus of “Bad Decisions”, Casablancas croons, “Pick up your gun / Put up those gloves,” which are both motifs in the album art of their first released LPs that are instantly identifiable by long-time fans. He then goes on to sing “Save us from harm / Safe or alone,” perhaps trying to express that the band would rather experiment with new sounds than remain creatively stagnant, just making attempts at recreating history, therefore challenging the fanbase as a whole to remain in tact and to trust that they are making these changes in their style for the sake of their own art. Despite the niche lyrics about the music industry, this song is insanely catchy, and I’ve had it on a constant cycle of repetition for the last three days along with “Why Are Sundays So Depressing, “Eternal Summer” and “At The Door”.

In short, The New Abnormal is the perfect concoction of both new and old musical techniques that makes for an enjoyable listening experience. The band’s comeback album is definitely one that I would recommend to both new listeners and those who, after seven years, have fallen out of The Strokes’ fanbase.