It’s a bit of an understatement to say The Strokes have had a rocky history (no pun intended, I swear). After exploding onto the scene in the early 2000s, they left an indelible mark on rock history and cemented themselves as one of the most influential bands of the time. To cut a long story short, with every album they released after that, opinions fell from critics and fans alike, and it seemed like The Strokes were done. But after a seven-year hiatus, filled only with a short-but-sweet EP, they’re back.
Despite being called The New Abnormal, their sixth record is about as derivative as you can get – not of other artists but of themselves. It sounds just like The Strokes of 2001, with a fresh coat of paint and polish. Maybe that’s their point – they’re still producing their sound of nearly twenty years ago, and now the scene has changed so they’re the abnormality.
Regardless of their intentions, the end result is a familiar ride, one that may either delight the long-time fan or exasperate someone waiting a decade for something new. It’s got the same breezy, direct, garage-band sound for the most part, with some occasional injections of synth, and the whole thing comes together with a well-produced polish. It’s fantastic background music – make of that what you will.
Some highlights are Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus with its Hoosiers-esque pop-rock/disco melody, but feels like an unfinished song – halfway through it seems to abruptly stop and start again from the beginning. Bad Decisions is an overall enjoyable song, but it’s hard to give it too much credit when it’s literally the same song as Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself with different lyrics – I can’t quite decide if that’s fun or just lazy. Ode To The Mets feels like the most complete song, where everybody in the band comes together to produce something greater than the sum of its parts. There’s a definite cohesion throughout, which if stories of the group’s frictions are to be believed, is a relief.
At The Door, released earlier in the year as a single, remains my favourite on the album, but even that bears more of a similarity to the sound of another of frontman Julian Casablancas’ projects, The Voidz. The punchy synth riff and Casabalancas’ vocal flexing, with the occasional well timed guitar chords, makes for the most distinct song of the bunch, so much so that it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album, seeming more at home on a Tame Impala album.
Speaking of Casablancas, he has much more range here than ever before, and absolutely carries vocal-dominant tracks with some excellent lyrics. His usual angsty drawl is as charismatic as ever, but he also enunciates a bit better, which I think is a good thing – I bet I’m not the only one who’s yelled the first two lines of Last Nite a thousand times over, and couldn’t for the life of me say a single other lyric.
They haven’t taken any new strides in their formula, and the gap left by The Strokes was long ago filled by Arctic Monkeys and latterly The 1975 – who have both evolved into completely new sounds. But I can’t judge them too harshly merely for making the same music they always have – after all, they do it brilliantly, and I have to stress, this is overall a good album. But six albums in, I’d expect to hear at least one or two new tricks from them, and it feels like there’s a fraction of the energy and creativity that can be found with The Voidz.The band have spoken in the past about how they never really got a handle on their sudden fame, and don’t feel like they strictly speaking ‘made it’ enough to hang up the mantle of The Strokes. I think this is a band that’s still working out their sound, and as slow as it goes, I expect it’ll eventually be rewarding to the patient out there – this is certainly a step in a promising direction.
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