On April 10, 2020, The Strokes returned to the forefront of indie music with their new album “The New Abnormal,” their first release since the “Future Present Past” EP in 2016 and their first full album in seven years.
As lead singer Julian Casablancas announced at a New Year’s Eve show, “The 2010s, whatever the f–k they’re called, we took ‘em off. And now we’ve been unfrozen and we’re back.”
Die-hard fans of The Strokes might have been desperately awaiting this news, especially after the rumors that all members of the band — Casablancas, Albert Hammond Jr., Fabrizio Moretti, Nick Valensi and Nikolai Fraiture — all hated each other and wanted to pursue their various solo projects. Luckily for Casablancas, he achieved moderate success in his solo endeavors with his album “Phrazes For The Young” and indie band The Voidz.
The year 2019 proved to be somewhat of a rocky time for the band. Their first show in almost two years was a benefit concert at the Wiltern in Los Angeles where they debuted “The Adults Are Talking” from “The New Abnormal” for the first time. The show was supposed to start off their global comeback tour, but the concerts faced a variety of hurdles — sound issues, individual shows getting rained out and multiple festivals getting canceled.
Yet in February 2020, The Strokes played at a rally for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at the University of New Hampshire. At the gig, Casablancas announced the new album and an impending release date.
Consequently “The New Abnormal” signals not only the end of the band’s hiatus, but a reunion. With their return, they bring about nostalgia for the late 2000s indie style that they pioneered.
The familiar sound of the album was met with mixed reviews from fans and critics alike. Pitchfork gave “The New Abnormal” a 5.7 out of 10, saying that the album sounds “sluggish and slight” and “mostly just feels like a hangover.” Pitchfork reads the somewhat formulaic feel of the album as tired and overdone.
But longtime followers of The Strokes know that they’ve always been somewhat nostalgic, even before their success. Their hooks often make subtle references, ranging from the Psychedelic Furs, Lou Reed and Billy Idol. And part of the fun is guessing those connections.
Since there was a time when The Strokes dominated the indie rock scene and were well-loved, there’s nothing inherently wrong with sticking to that formula. It certainly isn’t broke and doesn’t need to be fixed. But upon a closer listen, there’s a refreshing political edge to the lyrics of “The New Abnormal,” starting, most prominently, with the album’s title, which recalls how much life in their home of New York City has changed over one year. The record’s release also follows the band’s appearance on “The Late Late Show with James Corden” in 2018, in which Casablancas wore a military vest and said, “We’re all at an invisible war, my friend.”
Though songs like “Bad Decisions” may sound eerily similar to tracks from their previous albums like “Is This It,” there’s a noticeable shift. Produced by Rick Rubin, the tracks follow his style in amping the volume for choruses and stripping back verses. Casablancas’ vocals have improved tremendously, his falsetto shining throughout the record. The guitars are in constant conversation with each other like never before. Though the album sounds just like a familiar formula for The Strokes, “The New Abnormal” reminds us that there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the same sound.