The New Abnormal
A general observation: You don’t go see Rick Rubin at Shangri-La if you’re just going to fuck around. For their sixth LP, The Strokes turn to the Mage of Malibu to produce their most focused collection of songs since 2003’s Room on Fire—the very beginning of a period marked by discord, disinterest, and addiction. Only their fourth record since, The New Abnormal finds the fivesome sounding fully engaged and totally revitalized, offering glimpses of themselves as we first came to know them at the turn of the millennium—young saviors of rock, if not its last true stars—while also providing the sort of perspective and even grace that comes with age. “Bad Decisions” is at turns riffy and elegiac, Julian Casablancas’ corkscrewing chorus melody a close enough relative to 1981’s “Dancing With Myself” that Billy Idol and Tony James are credited as songwriters. Though not as immediate, “Not the Same Anymore” is equally toothsome, a heart-stopping soul number that manages to capture feelings of both triumph and deep regret, with Casablancas opening himself up and delivering what might be his finest vocal performance to date. “I was afraid,” he sings, amid a weave of cresting guitars. “I fucked up/I couldn’t change/It’s too late.” For a band that forged an entire mythology around appearing as though they couldn’t be bothered, this is an exciting development. It’s cool to care, too.