Underrated Albums of 2020, Vol. 4: The Strokes – The New Abnormal

The Strokes’ most recent album pulled out all the stops after Julian Casablancas’ divorce.

Never would one imagine that an album by The Strokes could ever be considered underrated after nearly two decades of being heralded as greats – yet here we are.

Coming off of an album hiatus that spanned just over seven years, band frontman Julian Casablancas and The Strokes came back with one of the best albums of 2020. Backed by production and music industry legend Rick Rubin, The New Abnormal sees The Strokes returning to peak form that any casual listener can appreciate.

Objectively speaking, it would be hard for a fan of The Strokes to put anything else over their 2001 opus, Is This It, or their 2011 masterpiece, Angles. However, The New Abnormal makes a compelling case with its dive into bouncy guitar riffs and demanding bass lines. 

Something about the way guitar is used throughout The New Abnormal speaks to the genre-blending of the album. Whether it’s the back-and-forth duel on “The Adults Are Talking,” or the guitar synthesizer used for “Why Are Sundays So Depressing,” it’s safe to say that band guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. had fun with the album. The lines between indie rock and new-wave pop come to be blurred on this album, but the nod to their earlier work is there, with a more mature and well-produced sound.

Fresh off his divorce at the time, a lot of Casablancas’ lyrics read as though they speak directly on the subject. It doesn’t go without saying that The New Abnormal featured big name co-writers like Billy Idol, Richard Butler and Tony James on tracks like “Bad Decisions,” and “Eternal Summer.” In any case, some of the more head scratching lyrics make more sense in the context of a breakup. “Selfless,” the album’s second track, shows this with lyrics like, “Bite my tongue, I wait my turn / I waited for a century / Waste my breath, no lessons learned.” In the same breath, “Why Are Sundays So Depressing,” offers that same curiosity, “Don’t ask me questions / That you don’t want the answers to.”

Another facet of this album that is often overlooked is the wide range of vocal performances. In a music career spanning over twenty years, it would be assumed that listeners have heard everything that Casablancas has to offer. And still, he has more in his bag of tricks. The New Abnormal’s strongest vocal performance comes to the tune of “At The Door,” which is just over five minutes of Casablancas pushing himself to hold notes while articulating every syllable; a performance reminiscent of 2011’s “Metabolism.” Though The New Abnormal is only nine songs long, there is enough content over these tracks to make it one of The Strokes’ better albums.

Even though The New Abnormal earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album, it still feels like the album has yet to fully receive the praise it is due, especially after seven relatively quiet years from the band. Besides, a Grammy nomination isn’t worth much these days. 

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