It’s Easter where I am so thank God for The Strokes. Thank God for The Strokes and their inexplicable ability to turn trivial guitar riffs I could myself come up with within a few minutes of impromptu jamming into transcendental modern rock classics, assuming a whole form way, way bigger than the mere sum of its parts. After having ventured into a fiercely written iteration of my unfiltered thoughts over their comeback single “At the Door” earlier this year—nota bene in a pre-C-word world—the writing was all over Jean-Michel Basquiat’s wall as far as reprising said cliffhanger with a full-fledged critical appraisal of the New York City Cops-band’s sixth studio album The New Abnormal is concerned—nota bene prophetically titled during a pre-C-word world. You can’t imagine the dash of existential relief that rushed through yours truly’s spine when the garage rock fivesome, alongside pretty much the rest of the global live entertainment industry, decided to cancel and/or postpone everything but their Good Friday slated street date for their first album in more than half a decade (under the influence).
Issued through a joint venture between frontman’s Julian Casablancas’ very own Cult Records label and major Sony Music’s gnarly RCA imprint; fully executive produced by DAW-heavyweight and Malibu radical chic extraordinaire Rick Rubin; overkilled by saturated hype and dead-on-arrival obstructionist skepticism by those who alighted at their sophomore Room on Fire career station—this album was not meant to experience a smooth and lean landing by design. Speaking of which, one cannot but grin and rejoice over the inordinate amounts of raised eyebrows and posh hand gusting that must have occurred among high-brow fine arts cultural milieus in their ivory towers upon realisation that a mainstream popular band managed to successfully license an iconic 1981 Basquiat canvas to serve as their cheapened digital album front cover. This fact alone would warrant a full unpacking dissection of wasted gentrified atelier simpaticos from Los Angeles to Tokyo and everywhere in between, but especially Paris.
Aside from the aforementioned hallucinating epic beaut “At the Door“, the USA East Coast indie boyz saw fit to preview their ominously titled studio full length via two more standalone singles. On 18th February, one week after their lead cut was unleashed, the group unveiled the ingeniously jolly and retro gated reverb-sounding “Bad Decisions” (attached to a larger-than-life music video), a supremely tongue-in-cheek and exaggeratedly self-aware 80s festive sing-a-long borrowing a switched-on interpolation of the supremely tongue-in-cheek and exaggeratedly self-aware 80s festive sing-a-long “Dancing With Myself” by English rock n roll crooner Billy Idol, by doing so awarding the latter handy songwriting credits as well as important claims on future mechanical and performing royalties stemming from the song’s playback. From there nearly another uneventful month had to pass before The Strokes dropped a final juicy and fun album taster with the squeaky and faux-futuristic hymn “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus“, albeit it ending up being the lukewarm lull of the trio of singles, with its superfluous meta-narrative coupled with what comes off as insincere indifference working slightly in its disfavour.
Notwithstanding the regular run-of-the-mill album roll out comprised of the above promo singles, with the band likely bound to surrender to its inevitable execution upon repeated RCA and brand sponsoring nudges, Julian, Albert, Fab, Nick, and Nik chose to pull out all the stops and celebrate The New Abnormal’s landing by throwing a self-described pirate radio show on YouTube. Named 5guys talking about things they know nothing about, at the time of writing the podcast sees its peak on episode two already, as the clique hilariously and dorkily sits through their own album listening party made up of only deep cuts over Zoom conference video calling. Just what we all wanted and needed from the biggest guitar band of the millennium. Deliberate or not, the decision to skip the premiere three songs “people already know” actually bears a wealth of merits in and of itself, for as with most records, their true lasting inherent value is really only found emerging by way of those sets of songs making up the structural yet paramount underbelly of any extended work of art. You ask Basquiat.
The swaggerish and airtightly sanitised album opener “The Adults Are Talking” might go toe to toe with 2006 First Impressions of Earth’s YOLO as their strongest and most showstopping intro tune since their trailblazing debut LP, elevated as it is by some of Julian’s sharpest and most defiant sets of lyrics to date (“They will blame us, crucify and shame us / We can’t help it if we are a problem / We are tryin’ hard to get your attention / I’m climbin’ up your wall“), and complete with a refreshing recording-fading into organic live Shangri-La studio bantering, wonderfully liaising with the following smooth downtempo slice and Angles-relative “Selfless” at number two on the nine-joint tracklist. A similar “keep it rolling, all-systems-go on air” live session feel permeates both the last ten seconds of the above mentioned “Bad Decisions” as well as big anthemic curtain puller “Ode to the Mets“, where Julian’s baritone crooning straying from his vocal flow and demanding “Drums, please, Fab” at 1:40 legit sounds just like history in the making. Apropos the latter discordant and angst-filled stunner, one can’t but notice a pretty uncanny melodic reminiscence between the song’s outro vocal and guitar licks and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)“—could it be that it flowing under the crediting radar might have anything to do with the share of royalties demanded by the Lennon & Ono estates?
Sequenced at number seven and eight on the tracklist respectively, both “Why Are Sundays So Depressing“—highlighted by its underwater and suffocated-gated guitar and vocal choruses interwoven by strident and scorching six-string passages throughout—and “Not The Same Anymore“—this being the best example of the band’s inexplicable ability to turn trivial guitar riffs I could myself come up with within a few minutes of impromptu jamming into transcendental modern rock classics—make for absolutely decent and regular Strokes jams, however it’s the six-minute aphrodisiac elixir “Eternal Summer” splitting the album in two that will have people talk in spades for ever. Not necessarily a standout in terms of runtime per se, considering that as much as more than half the songs on The New Abnormal pass the five-minute mark (!), this is arguably going to be the diamond in the rough that folks will look back to as distilling the unequivocal ultimate Strokes sound. Easily amongst the best tunes the group has ever written at its core, the track makes smart and creative use of a host of quintessential Strokes trademarks in order to elevate the final mix to a spine-chilling, mind-numbing washed out haze of pure spiritual alignment and bliss. This joint’s production is exactly why Rick Rubin is the highest paid producer in popular rock music.
Take the ostensibly innocuous ad-lib “This, and I never let it happen / Hey, yeah, oh / Hey, yeah, oh” grindingly cutting through the sea of layered electric guitars and synths just ten seconds into the song: it’s classic Strokes. Another case in point, consider Julian’s biting, blistering, and dreamy falsetto during the song’s verses and pre-choruses: it’s classic Strokes. Zero in on the menacing and distorted vocal shouts in its mystical refrain, “I can’t believe it / This is the eleventh hour / Psychedelic / Life is such a funny journey / Hercules, your silence is no longer needed / It’s just like make-believe“: it’s classic Strokes. Bask in the galloping and subaltern melodic hook of its subsequent post-chorus, “They got the remedy / But they won’t let it happen / Yeah, they got the remedy / But they won’t let it happen“: it’s classic Strokes. Relinquish your moral compass to the hypnotic, hammering, and distorted first half of the tune’s outro, before reaching unmediated enlightenment thanks to the solar chopped and screwed telephone fading at the tail end of six minutes that flow by in a way that’s hard to explain: it’s classic Strokes. The New Abnormal: it’s classic Strokes.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
“THE NEW ABNORMAL”
2020, RCA Records