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CD of The Week

Week of 4/13/20

    The Strokes - The New Abnormal (RCA / Cult)

    Let's get it out of the way first – yes, The Strokes named their new album The New Abnormal before we all entered the most abnormal "normal" of our lives. The venerable New York rockers' first new album in seven years, and first new music since 2016's Future Present Past EP, arrives as we close in on nearly two decades since the group made a splash with their earliest singles. What does a band with this much time under their belts, who have famously seemed like a fractured unit for half their career, bring to the table at this point? If you're singer Julian Casablancas, the answer seems to be a somewhat mournful look back to the past.

    As with all Strokes music from the past decade, there's a push-and-pull between the rest of the band and Casablancas. While their frontman has gone further out into space on his records with The Voidz, the other members have all been putting out fairly guitar-driven indie rock on their respective solo projects for years. When the guitars of Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi click into place behind Casablancas, it just feels like The Strokes, even if it doesn't sound like 2001. When the new tunes float off on a wave of odd sounds and keyboards, Casablancas has noticeably taken the wheel to steer into his preferred lane.

    Opener "The Adults Are Talking" is a lower-key Strokes song, but you definitely hear Hammond and Valensi's guitars from the start. "Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus" has a punny title and rides a new wave Human League keyboard part. Casablancas sings that "I want new friends, but they don't want me." (Maybe that's why they're invoking "Don't You Want Me?") That could be a reference to his bandmates, but he also namedrops his now ex-wife Juliet. They just split last year, so maybe that's another reason he's looking to break from the past on The New Abnormal.

    Speaking of '80s influences, single "Bad Decision" cribs from Modern English's "Melt with You" and Billy Idol's "Dancing with Myself" so much that, in this post-"Blurred Lines" lawsuit world, Idol gets a writing credit. The 6+ minute "Eternal Summer" has a Phoenix vibe but also required a writing credit for The Psychedelic Furs, as it nicks from "The Ghost in You."

    "Why Are Sunday's So Depressing", a gramattically incorrect song title if there ever was one, also swings back to Casablancas' lament, singing, "My baby's gone, but I don't miss her / Like a swan, I don't miss swimming / All my friends left, and they don't miss me." The torch song closer "Ode to the Mets" (boooo!) is also a bit of an elegy, but for what? His marriage? The Strokes' good old days? Casablancas flat out sings "Gone now are the old times" and "Old friends, long forgotten / The old ways at the bottom of / The ocean now has swallowed."

    With every rare Strokes album, you have to ask if this is the final one. Especially with so much of The New Abnormal about saying goodbye to the past. The future is far from normal, everything is abnormal now and when it comes to The Strokes, the end has no end.
    Review by Joey O.

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