Album of the Week: The Strokes, 'The New Abnormal'

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The Strokes, 'The New Abnormal'
The Strokes, 'The New Abnormal' - their first new release in seven years - comes out April 10, 2020. The album's cover artwork is a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 'Bird on Money.' (RCA Records)

The Strokes are a band I usually feel excited to write about, because each of their records have carried their own unique excitement for me. In the case of The New Abnormal, the initial circumstances of its existence are quickly overshadowed by the malaise of a band content to release new music for the sake of releasing new music, and just like that, an event becomes a non-event.

It certainly felt like a capital-E Event when the band announced The New Abnormal in dramatic fashion, on stage performing at a Bernie Sanders rally the night before the New Hampshire primary. The energy from that evening made it feel like 2020 could be a year where both Senator Sanders and the Strokes were at the front of a cultural zeitgeist; of course, the Sanders campaign fell to pieces soon thereafter, and the rest of world society fell to pieces from there. There was at least a hope that the Strokes could provide a jolt of energy that could satiate music fans.

The New Abnormal plays to many of the band's strengths - Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi add some neat guitar parts all over the album, and Casablancas brings a suitable level of self-pity to his lyrics. They play explicit homage to some of their influences, to the point where Billy Idol and the Psychedelic Furs receive literal writing credits for "Bad Decisions" and "Eternal Summer," respectively. Modern English may well have gotten an additional credit for "Bad Decisions," and the band also winks at this concept on "Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus," which nicks New Order's "Sub-Culture" in a song whose primary lyrical conceit is trying to identify a semi-forgotten tune from the '80s. "Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus" also winds up providing the record's emotional hotspot during its chorus of "I want new friends / but they don't want me!" which could speak to the frustrations of all of us trying to make new connections during this tough time.

One hallmark of both the Strokes' catalog and their members' solo projects is the tendency to both drastically think outside the box, while also painting by numbers in other areas, without ever feeling like they suitably land on either side of the fence, and yet never satisfyingly fuse it all together, either. For most of Comedown Machine and a large bulk of Hammond's solo albums, most songs may as well be named "Rock Song No. 1," "Rock Song No. 2," etc., while Casablancas' records with the Voidz would include about 5 minutes of brilliance submerged in the hour-long murk of their albums. The New Abnormal stretches out the band's song lengths like never before, in many cases relying on atmosphere over riffage, ultimately to mixed effect. "At the Door" felt like a puzzling initial offering, but winds up serving as a moody centerpiece to the album, while several other songs maintain lengthy (for the Strokes!) run times, without being compelling. There are instance elsewhere in the band's catalog where a song that initially seemed lazy wound up eventually unveiling pleasures, such as Angles' "Call Me Back," but most of the second half of The New Abnormal winds up feeling homogeneous.

Maybe there's a parallel universe where I'm more excited to be writing about the new Strokes album; maybe there's a parallel universe where the album is better. In our current world, though, there's occasional moments of brilliance on The New Abnormal that mostly make me get me wondering if New Order's Low-Life is even more underrated than I thought.

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  • Album Review: The Strokes - Angles The Strokes' fourth album, "Angles," comes on the heels of a five-year band hiatus that saw numerous solo projects and sparked doubt over whether the band would ever record together again.
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  • Albert Hammond Jr. performs live in the Current studio Albert Hammond Jr. was born in Los Angeles California. As a member of the indie-rock band The Strokes, he plays lead and rhythm guitar. He released his solo record, "Yours To Keep" in the UK in 2006 and in North America in 2007.

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