The Strokes – The New Abnormal

The Strokes don’t wanna be your hero.

They’re too nice to tell you this, but your poster on the wall doesn’t get them off. Maybe it used to, somewhere towards the beginning.

The voice of someone’s generation, be it maybe just a blip in time, The Strokes seized that day nonetheless. They had the Big Apple on their shoulders, and that weight does what it always does. It’s a load that bears false witness. It ends up in your nose or in your arm. At the very least it goes to your head. There is the possibility of recovery, but the Indian burns last forever, Apple red. It started with The Velvet Underground, then Television, unto The Ramones, a bop, a skip or two, then the seeming last frontier with The Strokes. The whole “New York personified” time parade dissolves with The Strokes. Maybe it got its last laugh with LCD Soundsystem. Who knows? New York City is naked now. Lady Liberty wears a protective mask, and here we have The New Abnormal, as if on cue.

Again, The Strokes haven’t set out to make a dreaded reunion album where everyone’s fat and sober. They want to be spared from nostalgic impotence and the sweaty catharsis panting it brings. Instead, they came together and recorded an album in a way they haven’t done since they were sprouts, by writing together, in a room, in person, yes sir. All those middle-of-the-road Strokes albums were made by taking an isolated track from an advent calendar each day until they had an album. That homeopathic approach doctored up some hits. But looking back at them now, you can feel the space between the members. On The New Abnormal, the boys feel closer than ever. Maybe the machine has gotten craftier with its Auto-Tune artifice, but it feels real to me. I played it twice just to make sure.

The mix glows like a halo, it puts you in a current that revolves about the album like a sister planet. It’s no surprise that the Long Beach hermit Rick Ruben is behind this. The New Abnormal is the best production on any Strokes album to date, which is something they never put much focus on in the studio. More proof that care was put into this baby with perfect eyesight. The choice to pair with Rubin is reflected in the early ’80s pop punk/new wave direction that the band has taken. Something Rubin is familiar with, having lived during it, but it is admittedly a direction he never took when he was on that road. We saw remnants of this ’80s fanaticism on the prior two Strokes albums, but they were more in the vein of a-ha, Duran Duran, and other shit I politely hate. The New Abnormal sees The Strokes developing into the cooler and more English acts from the beginning of the decade like Generation X. There’s even some touch of the classic British rock bands of the ’60s and ’70s during their final attempts of survival over to the next decade. I’m most specifically referencing Pink Floyd’s The Wall, in relation to the track “Eternal Summer.” It has Julian Casablancas using his purest choir boy vocals in stark contrast to this new English schoolmaster hook he uses for the first time in his career. Much to the same effect of Roger Waters, it spells the divide between adolescence and adulthood, while acknowledging the band’s paradoxical role between the two.

There’s a lot of new abilities and digs in the game now, with each member developing a more unique sense of individuality and musical flavors while abroad these last seven years. They managed to put those pieces together to make something that they were never quite able to do their entire career. There might not be skinny jean anthems on The New Abnormal, but the teamwork and connection presented ends up leaving a bigger mark to the trained eye. Plus these aren’t the same zit-faced kids with their hair in their face on the gatefold of 2001’s Is This It? The Strokes are well into adulthood, most of them have families. For the first time ever, I hear that. The headlong creative transition into adulthood can make or break. Look how shitty it went with The Growlers.

Luckily, things bode well for The Strokes at this moment. They found a way to finally accept their maturity, but with that new sense of wisdom comes the childlike naiveté associated with the beginnings of anything unfamiliar. They acknowledge this uncharted territory with whimsy and humor. You can literally hear this on the album, with novelty dialogues about key and tempo on the cleverly titled “The Adults are Talking” or when Casabalancas politely asks for drums in the middle of “Ode to the Mets.” The New Abnormal is the revelation that accepting adulthood doesn’t mean compromising your childish integrity. That’s a hero in my book. Whether they like it or not.

The Strokes
The New Abnormal