Back when this album came out, me and John were planning on bringing back our Rokk Talk podcast to do a deep dive into The Strokes, one of our most formative bands. We never ended up doing it, possibly due to the general inertia that the pandemic has wrought on all of us or possibly due to the somewhat unexciting nature of this album. This isn’t to say that The New Abnormal is an all-out bad Strokes album — I’d still put it ahead of the letdown machine that was 2013’s Comedown Machine as well as 2006’s career-tanking First Impressions of Earth. Though after a seven-year gap, it would have been nice to see The Strokes come back in a big way, while The New Abnormal sees them coming back in more of a mixed-bag kind of way.
I probably should have kept my expectations for this album low when The Strokes dropped the head-scratcher of a lead single “At The Door”, which isn’t necessarily a bad song, but maybe wasn’t exactly the best reintroduction for the band. However, when the single “Bad Decisions” preceded it, I got my hopes up once again for this band that has probably burned through all of its goodwill. For this one song, the ’00s NYC magic of The Strokes is in full effect, while providing a whistful ode to all of the ill-conceived shenanigans the group got into in their younger years. I should have seen it coming that the rest of the album wouldn’t sound like this song though, considering The Strokes played the same card back when they released the crowd-pleaser single “Undercover of Darkness” ahead of 2011’s Angles.
The New Abnormal for the most part is more in line with “At The Door” than “Bad Decisions”, though it has its moments where The Strokes’ latter-day synth tendencies are paired nicely with their earlier pluckiness (see “Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus”). In fact, relistening to this album last night, I was surprised by how energized and renewed The Strokes sound on the first four or five tracks, to the point where I thought I’d maybe underestimated this album initially. But then, unfortunately, I was reminded that the album kind of peters out toward the end with a few songs that are a little unfocused and meandering, even though I appreciate the atmospheric production they’re playing with here.
So even if The New Abnormal doesn’t quite come together as a great Strokes album (or even an underrated one like Angles), at least they’re trying something here. The band — for the first time in ages — sounds like they’re enjoying playing music with each other, which I suppose shouldn’t be the kind of praise worth aiming at a bunch of guys that get to play music for a living, but that’s the low bar they’ve set for themselves ever since Room on Fire. Which I suppose gives me a little bit of hope that maybe The Strokes will record another, more cohesive album in the near future, but there I go getting my hopes up about The Strokes again…