Seeking a soft blanket smelling of artistic comfort to wrap up the mind; allowing music to settle, soothe and take away focus on what it could not escape from, is how considerable amounts coped with what 2020 threw at them. This year was their year, the return of The Strokes, and they courteously upheld that plan in the face of adversity, with a marginal detour of sorts.
Off to Malibu they went to record the quintet’s sixth studio album, inviting cross-genre producing genius Rick Rubin along. Synergy came to light when the title was revealed, The New Abnormal, as the phrase said out loud only what we were all thinking. Months have passed since its April 10th release, and with the red spinning saucer rarely off my turntable, it feels like the right time to tenderly place stirred emotions into letters and words.
February proved a mixed bag: we sensed something that we had never come across before was on the horizon, never realising the impact it would have. However, the revealing of At The Door induced exhilaration for the future. It seemed far removed from our Strokes, yet closer than ever. It is plainly an endless task to choose a favourite ever song, but this is up there.
The tune is searching, reaching for something far out to sea. The rhythmic, looped synth and strength and range of voice carry the ear to guitar chords that soften intensity, and a Baroque style section leads to the misty fog horn outro guiding someone home like A Candle on the Water: "I'll be waiting on the other side, waiting for the tide to come." Nothing is obvious lyrically as the boys are not inclined to discuss content so, as ever, it is given as a gift for us to decipher, but it is plain to hear that pain in some form of heartache is endured.
Fear not if avant-garde is not your thing, a mere week later, Bad Decisions came along appeasing the traditionalists and calling on the five's garage rock roots and delectable rolling drums. Arguably one of the most upbeat tunes on the LP, it starts the trend of proudly citing your influences and borrowing elements that please you: here, Billy Idol's Dancing With Myself. Lending continues in environmental-based Eternal Summer - an attention grabber on first listen - which looked to The Psychedelic Furs for a sample from, and, not for the first time, the sound pays tribute to the past decades.
An 80s movie make-out moment is present in Not The Same Anymore: bow tie loose, rain dripping down the pane, purple lighting, empty hotel bar, a guy contemplating and acknowledging his actions and losses: "I was afraid, I fucked up, yeah I couldn’t change, it’s too late." Mesmerising strumming guitars on the chorus are plentiful, and the guitar solo speaks to us in volumes, the anchor of the group, the bass, is unassuming and poised, and an organ wraps it up entirely as the outro kings strike again.
For opener The Adults Are Talking, each instrument fits together as flawlessly as a jigsaw, which we have become accustomed to from day one and agility is ample in the quickfire chorus. A disco ball of amusement is spinning for Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus in this spirited New Wave number. Jaunty keys catch the attention and their humour shines through in lines like "Can we switch into the chorus right now" and the particularly British pronunciation of the verb 'dancing'. Nearing the end, to match natural nuggets sprinkled throughout, we can hear conversations and tuning from the pals. See famous example, 'Drums please Fab.'
There is a soft County lilt and beauty present in the gorgeously romantic Selfless, sentiments laid bare for everyone to know: "I don't have love without your arm, life is too short, but I will live for you." Why Are Sundays So Depressing plays around with the sound distribution which sets a precedent for the track, it cannot be contained or captured; chopping and changing, a class number. Perfect closer Ode To The Metz brings back the oceanic quality in the dead of night and the ripple and flow of waves as we are treated to rare backing and a Sinatra style range of melancholy, desperation, and finally, acceptance. "The old ways at the bottom, of the ocean now has swallowed." Time to seek pastures green.
Maybe I overplayed over a near twenty-year span and I look back in fondness, but presently, not forever, I have had my fill of sticky floors, biker jackets, lairyness and Last Night (See example I Bet That You Look Good On The Dance Floor), and greet with open arms The New Abnormal in full, live, right now. It feels like the last two decades have been summed up in this piece of art as all of our lives took their funny journey, but in no way shape or form is this the end, oh no, because, because it is them. I applaud this master-stroke of an album as much as I applaud each and every one of our dear Strokes.
Article by Beverley Knight