The Strokes' The New Abnormal Proves the Band Won't Let the Past Define Them

The Strokes open up in a time where everything seems to be closing down

When reflecting on what rock music has become over the past twenty years or so, there are a handful of bands which stand out. In the early 2000s, bands like the Strokes cultivated a new era of sound, defined by new-age garage rock. Yet the Strokes’ first release in seven years, The New Abnormal is not the punchy comeback fans expected. Instead, the record is full of confessional and nostalgic songs for fans to lean on in these uncertain times. 

For many, the Strokes are a household name, and they should happily accept their place within rock music, defined by the sounds of their early albums. This album proves the band has more to offer. The Strokes have certainly struggled with growing pains. Later releases are constantly compared to their debut Is This It. The incredible success of that record created a legacy which the band did not intend to write. Despite their growth and the creation of other incredible albums, the impact of Is This It follows, which can be undoubtedly frustrating for a band.

The Strokes encapsulate that feeling of being good, but never quite enough, on the first single from The New Abnormal, “At the Door”. The sad opening lines –– “I can’t escape it / I’m never gonna make it out of this in time" –– create a dreadful, melancholic tone, which carries throughout the song. The lyrics emphasize the feelings of futility as the band attempts to shed the expectations they created for themselves all those years ago.

The strained relationship between the band’s members in the past has been no secret to the public. On “Bad Decisions”, the Strokes choose to address it, albeit in a much fonder way, allowing bygones to be bygones. The song samples Billy Idol’s catchy hit, “Dancing With Myself”, straying from the band’s more traditional work. There is a sense of irony in the repetitiveness of the catchy, indie-pop chorus. It seems like the bad decisions Casablanca sings about refer to the band’s choice to stray from their “token” sound, and the creative missteps the band may have taken in the past. With lyrics such as “You, you didn’t listen to me / but I, I didn’t listen to you” the strained relationship between band members is not shyly disclosed.

Tracks “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” and “The Adults Are Talking” both harken back to the early, classic songs from the Strokes. “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” builds upon themes of reflection and reminiscence. The lyrics explore the difficulties of letting go; both of people from the past, and of the rock saviour reputation the band held throughout the early 2000s. The synth in the beginning, along with the punchy bass line makes the song uplifting and youthful, despite its nostalgic lyrics. On “The Adults Are Talking”, Casablanca’s distorted and muzzled vocals deliver a rebellious message, all wrapped up with a hooky baseline. 

Casablanca’s voice shines wonderfully on “Selfless”, as he sings about the challenges of his relationship. This is continued on “Why Are Sundays So Depressing,” where he reflects on his rise to fame and its subsequent effect on his life and relationships. It is the guitar riff, however, which is the focus of the song. “Not the Same Anymore” is a raw and confessional piece, focusing on Casablanca’s troubles. He believes he is to blame for the dissolution of his relationships. The regretful tone differs from the melancholy of “Selfless” and “ Why are Sundays So Depressing.” If there is one thing that the Strokes have always known, it is how to capture a feeling that we do not even know we have.

One song that stands out, and which is a favourite of drummer Fabrizio Moretti, is “Eternal Summer”. Vocally, this song highlights Casablanca’s vivid falsetto, particularly during the intro and the chorus. The guitar riffs and flowing synth make this song feel like the listener is driving fast into a sunset ––  a moment that is too fleeting and too fast, but simultaneously feels like forever. The title truly captures the essence of the track. The breezy feeling of this song masks the existential dread in the lyrics, as Casablanca makes several references to ignoring reality, such as “this is a fantasy,” and “pillars like time are fading away.” With the instability of this year so far, this uncertain tone cultivates a feeling of comfort –– especially with the closing line “look at it on the bright side”. 

“Ode to the Mets” encapsulates everything we love about the Strokes, making it an epic finale for the album. As the title states, the song is literally an ode to the New York Mets, Casablanca’s favourite team which hails out of the city in which the band is based. “Ode to the Mets” is a symphony of an apology, perhaps for their brash, youthful ways all those years ago. Many fans were quick to point out that the first lyrics on Is This It are also an apology: “Can’t you see I’m trying?”. There is a certain sense of finality in the song: a goodbye to the old ways, and a salute to a possible new beginning. The wistful lyrics are enveloped by soft guitars and synthesizers, which crescendo as the song ends. A definite goodbye to the ways of the past, and a tentative wait for what’s to come next.

When envisioning a future Strokes comeback a few years ago, The New Abnormal would probably not have been what anyone expected. However, with the way the world is right now, nothing sounds better than drifting away with The New Abnormal blasting through your headphones. The raw and self-reflective lyrics, paired with the dependable instrumental work of the band, create a nostalgic feeling in the pit of your stomach. A romanticization of nostalgia and longing is clear throughout. Although the band is on a journey of self-reflection, they make their listeners navigate their own emotions during these uncertain times. This record provides solace to racing minds realizing that things might not be like they were before. While we may not be ready for what is to come, all we can do is wait it out. And that is perfectly okay.