The New Abnormal
A Record Review
By OLIVIA LANE
Admit it. When The Strokes released 2016’s EP, Future Present Past, it was a surprise to all of us. Between lead singer Julian Casablancas’ 2014 surprise SXSW appearances with his new creatively strange raucous outfit, The Voidz, and the common critique of artistic disconnect regarding the releases since their debut record Is This It — fans thought they had reached the end of the beautifully angsty and perfectly orchestrated relief from the musical norm known as The Strokes. And, in part, they were right to think so — as it took seven years from the group’s last full-length record release, 2013’s Comedown Machine, and just shy of four years from EP Future Present Past for our beloved, leather-jacket-sporting saviors of rock ‘n roll to make their long awaited powerful comeback.
At their first Los Angeles show in years at The Wiltern on May 13th of 2019, it was blatantly obvious right then and there in the energy of the fog-machine-clouded, humid air of the crowded iconic L.A. venue that The Strokes had found their way back at last. Just as they did in 2016, once again The Strokes have shocked the masses and gone where few bands have gone before in managing to not only wrangle their seemingly lost Is This It mojo, but also morph said mojo into the absolutely electrifying statement record, The New Abnormal — the most authentically Strokes-esque move made by the band in nearly a decade.
Bird on Money, a 1981 painting by the brilliant New York bred, 27 Club artist Jean-Michel Basquiat serves as the cover and simultaneously sets the tone for the record. The New Abnormal is perhaps the best musical take of neo-expressionism ever made, a movement not only known for its political critique undertones but also for its raw intensity and violently passionate qualities — an artistic match made in heaven for The Strokes.
Mischievous record-opener, “The Adults Are Talking,” criticizes the elite who refuse to understand matters that make them uncomfortable with the main focus of the number being the misunderstanding of individuality, a topic very prevalent in The Strokes’ discography. The upbeat, car-windows-down anthem “Bad Decisions” is a classic Albert Hammond Jr. guitar-heavy hidden dragon on the record, with the intended sentiment being that fans tend to see every release dissimilar to Is This It as a bad decision on the part of the band. The following track, “Eternal Summer” casts blinding sunlight on the issue of climate change with the title as well as the repeated lyric “They got the remedy/But they won’t let it happen” — a prime example of The Strokes’ flawless musical blending of protest with pure and honest ardor.
“Selfless” as well as “At The Door” both function as a springboard to a closer look at Casablancas’ emotional vulnerability. The first acts an ode to his now ex-wife of fourteen years’ unconditional support during Casablancas’ alcohol-driven lows, and “At The Door” serves as a testament to what Casablancas foresees as what comes after death. The track is laced with small, yet still very much optimistic comforting hark backs to the track “On the Other Side” off of First Impressions of Earth, where unlike the cynical “Nobody’s waiting for me/On the other side,” the message is instead that Casablancas will be waiting on the other side.
Second to the final number on the record, “Not The Same Anymore” presents the neo-expressionist themes in the work of Basquiat with a delicate personal intensity — a feat that only a band of The Strokes’ caliber could achieve so effortlessly. Casablancas fears that it is too late to make the changes he needs to make in order to eradicate the mistakes he has made in his past relationships, “And now the door slams shut.” The line is one of many door references made throughout the record, which all likely serve as nods to Basquiat’s habit of using discarded doors as a canvas for his artwork.
Instead of using doors like the late, great Basquiat, The Strokes instead use sound and music as their canvas. The New Abnormal reveals that what the band’s strokes and scribes reflect may change with the times as well as with the transformations that the band itself endures, but what will always remain is their collective unmatched ability to create galvanizing art that will stand the test of time, and surely not be denied at the door.