It’s hard – actually hell no, it’s almost impossible – to believe that a band like The Strokes would even think about fading away as opposed to going out in a blaze of glory.
But the various sex, drugs and rock n’ rollers portrayed in Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me In The Bathroom seem to have mellowed to the extent that even if once you were so cool you managed to make The Libertines look like an adequate replica of you, it hardly seems to matter anymore.
Did they make the greatest debut album of the 21st century/all time? In the 20s, this rhetorical question seems to raise little more than a shrug. That said, the quintet are still so big that any new album is a marquee event, despite the feeling that they don’t necessarily seem to agree.
The New Abnormal is their first long player since 2013’s Comedown Machine, but if productivity is hardly a weapon in their arsenal then at least as a preview the single Bad Decisions was enough to remind us of their familiar strengths: built on some of those archetypal skimming riff pile-ons and just economically great, Julian Casablancas seemed also to be defiantly crooning a message to their detractors: ‘I don’t take advice from fools/Never listening to you’.
It served as a reminder that when they’re this good the years don’t matter, plus at least going some way to balancing the surprise of its predecessor At The Door, which sounded, deliberately or not, like The Killers after a difficult session of Pilates. Dealing with this was hard to handle, because one of the joys of The Strokes, good or bad, has always been that they sound like The Strokes and nobody else. Here, that walk into a bar anywhere in the world and guess the act routine slunk off into a corner.
Maybe they’ve figured their audience got old and suburban with them. Opener The Adults Are Talking sees Casablancas taking just enough risks with his voice, bending it round corners as that formidable rhythm section floats in the background, while Why Are Sundays So Depressing reads like the thoughts of a divorcee who ended up with the cat and not much else, their laconic new wave smarts just about carrying the whole thing off.
In the end, it’s left for New York to provide the inspiration, as opposed to mirroring the desperation of trying to make it as they were in the beginning. Here, Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus provides some rare tokens of glee and animation, but closer Ode To The Mets is pure Frankie Sinatra, the memories piling up like drifts of snow with JC growling,’I was just bored, playin’ the guitar/Learned all your tricks, wasn’t too hard’.
The Strokes did it their way, if you were there you’d know, and thanks to a great book even if you weren’t you can pretend you were anyway. It’s the future that looks uncertain, as The New Abnormal makes just enough of the right choices to keep keeping the faith, but that middle-aged spread seems just around the corner.