When I first saw The Strokes trending on Twitter last night, I was sure one of the band members had contacted the coronavirus. “It has to be Julian,” I thought. “The last time I saw him at Coachella, he couldn’t stop glad-handing everyone within five feet of the stage.”
It was an obvious assumption to make. These days, infected musicians are using their maladies as a way to stay in the news cycle. Pink, John Taylor of Duran Duran, Jackson Browne, and many more have all recently come out and confessed they’ve experienced COVID-19-like symptoms. Ed O'Brien of Radiohead even self-diagnosed himself and stated he "most probably" has it. We’ve all most probably had it, Ed.
These FOMO claims are as silly as they are insulting to people like John Prine, Ellis Marsalis, Manu Dibango, and Adam Schlesinger, all who recently perished after contracting the virus, but that’s a different article for a different time.
That said, The Strokes trending at number one throughout the night had nothing to do with viruses, death, or self-promotion. If I had just paid a little more attention, I’d have realized that The New Abnormal had just been launched into the world. Apparently Julian Casablancas announced on February 10, 2020 at a Bernie Sanders fundraiser that the band was releasing their sixth studio album on April 10, 2020, and dammit if they weren’t right on schedule.
But it’s easy to put The Strokes on the backburner. While they snuck in an EP in 2016, they haven’t released anything since early 2013’s Comedown Machine. And what you don’t remember about Comedown Machine is that the band implemented a media blackout for the album. No promos, no television appearances, no interviews, no photoshoots, no live shows, and certainly no tours and as a consequence, no interest in the record. The LP came and went without the adulation it deserved.
That’s why The New Abnormal is like an early Christmas gift. It’s full of the same electricity and optimism that Is This It still possesses almost two decades later, and the band isn’t shying away from its promotion. The New Abnormal’s opening song, “"The Adults Are Talking" could even be placed anywhere on Is This It and no one would be the wiser. It’s a protest song against corporate greed with a “Hand in Glove” - slash - you - and - me - against - the - world sentiment.
They will blame us, crucify and shame us
We can't help it if we are a problem
We are tryin' hard to get your attention
I'm climbin' up your wall
Sure, it’s easy to say The New Abnormal treads dangerously close to familiar sounds the band has leaned on over the years. Albert Hammond, Jr. and Casablancas’ solo work also use similar sounds and themes, but these are the reverberations that swirl around The Strokes' universe. There are no surprises, but who wants surprises right now?
The New Abnormal is an enjoyable diversion amidst these stay-at-home months. It’s a 45-minute escape filled with jagged guitars, understated percussion, and subtle keyboard jabs. Casablancas still sounds warbly and distorted, as if producer Rick Rubin decided to go with his scratch vocals because he was too busy meditating, but it all works. It works as well as it did in 2001.
Will it set the world on fire? Doubtful -- its beauty is too subtle and none of the tracks would be suitable for TikTok memes or synchronized dances.
And who will appreciate Casablancas' laissez-faire vocal on “Ode to the Mets,” only to mumble “Drums please... Fab?” as an afterthought as the snare kicks in at the 1:40-minute mark besides me and the three of you who read the last sentence of this review?
The Strokes on Spotify