Is This It for The Strokes? Not If They Have Anything to Say About It

Nineteen years after the release of their debut album, The Strokes release their sixth LP and prove that they’ve still got what it takes to rock and roll.

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Maanya Shah

The Strokes performed on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2019, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

When The Strokes dropped their seminal debut album, ‘Is This It,’ in 2001, critics and listeners alike were floored. Grunge music had dominated most of the 1990s, but by the millennium, hip hop and modern pop music had taken over the charts. The five members of The Strokes, vocalist Julian Casablancas, guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi, bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti, had been friends since childhood. Through the next 15 years, four more albums, and two hiatuses, that friendship would be tested. 

The Strokes refused to play by anyone’s rules but their own, but they were a band who could never quite figure out what their own rules were. It’s one thing to be a rebel, but to not know what you’re rebelling against is something else entirely. Critics called them saviors of rock n’ roll, a heavy burden to rest on their shoulders, whereas record labels pushed them to finish albums and tour again and again. The Strokes were the rebels of the 2000s who faded into obscurity for all of the wrong reasons.

The carefully chosen debut single for The New Abnormal was ‘At The Door,’ released on February 11, 2020. The song itself didn’t even sound like a quintessential Strokes song. Devoid of guitars and drums, slow-moving, and sad, it wasn’t clear what the tone of the album would look like until ‘Bad Decisions’ was released a week later. The complete antithesis to ‘At The Door,’ ‘Bad Decisions’ was energetic from the get-go, showing The Strokes embracing their roots, the wild, hedonistic days on the grungy Lower East Side in the early 2000s. The album as a whole followed neither of these themes. 

The Strokes have managed, in only nine songs, to make music in two dimensions. There’s the first, one that proves that The Strokes themselves have grown up a lot in the last two decades. All but two are married, with Julian having divorced his wife last year, and a lot of the album reflects the divorce. Instead of going to bars, they ponder existential questions such as “Why Are Sunday’s So Depressing?” and write songs lamenting the most disappointing part of New York City, The Mets.

The second dimension is the happier one, a celebration of the good old days: being reckless, having fun, and not worrying about the future. ‘Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus’ and ‘The Adults Are Talking’ are time capsules for a simpler era. The problem that many had with The Strokes’ albums before this, specifically with ‘Angles’ (2011) and ‘First Impressions of Earth’ (2006), was that they had great singles but lacked cohesiveness, or vice versa. Even ‘Comedown Machine’ (2013) was an overlooked album, especially since the band chose to pull a media blackout, eschewing a tour, interviews, and official announcements. Sylvia Maxwell ’21, remarked, “I was wary at first about their album, because I was unsure that it would live up to ‘Comedown Machine.’” The Strokes haven’t recorded an album that is as earth-shattering as ‘Is This It,’ but they have recorded one that shows a true evolution in terms of their sound and camaraderie.

While ‘The New Abnormal’ does have two very different tones, each one serves to enhance the other, weaving a complex web of emotions that helps the listener to understand that even nineteen years later, The Strokes are still capable of making music that means something different to everyone who listens to it.

Even nineteen years later, The Strokes are still capable of making music that means something different to everyone who listens to it.

During The Strokes’ performance on New Years Eve, December 31, 2019, at the Barclays Center, numerous lighting effects were used. (Maanya Shah)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Strokes also employed video screens to great effect during their Barclays Center concert. (Maanya Shah)

 

 

 

 

 

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