The New Abnormal: Making Light of 2020 Through Music [Album Review & Commentary]


The events of this year—particularly the global COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown—have doubtlessly produced circumstances that will long inspire the work of creatives. For many, 2020 has been defined by conflict and change, with societies being collectively pushed to an altogether different reality of coexistence and interaction.   In a world where it seems unlikely that anything will go back to the way it was, phrases such as ‘the new normal’ (or Spain’s ‘nueva normalidad’) have gained a great deal of popularity, perhaps for the need of a hopeful undertone in the midst of discomforting uncertainty.   However, for the more pessimistic and change-adverse among us, these sentiments are hardly convincing. Of the many different reactions to the current situation, one of the most widely captured by social media (especially with our generation’s meme culture), is close to absurdism: being aware that while things may be going in a downward spiral, they are also out of our control, and making light of the situation through humor and acceptance might just be the best way to get by.   This approach to the present state of affairs could be a possible interpretation to the newest album by The Strokes. Its title, The New Abnormal, sounds like an ironic twist on the pandemic catchphrases, and could be seen as a very context-specific and deliberate choice—were it not for the fact that it was announced (along with the album’s track list) in February, about two months before its full release on April 10. Considering this was long before COVID-19 had become a determinant of life around the world, The New Abnormal’s themes seem oddly premonitory, to say the least.    For many of us who were prior fans of The Strokes or indie rock music in general, The New Abnormal was a quarantine staple; personally, one of my main forms of at-home entertainment was discovering new music, so this album came to me as a small miracle that would make my first few weeks of lockdown a lot more tolerable. This might be part of the reason why I hold it in such high regard, but I still have no doubt that it is a worthy recommendation for anyone, regardless of their taste. Since I’m no music critic, I’ll stop myself from saying that the album is objectively good—I will say, though, that it is objectively interesting. Here are some curious details about its thoughtful composition, which makes it that much more worth the listen.   At first sight    Having mentioned the eerie coincidence of the album title as a perfect description of this year’s events, my curiosity immediately gravitated to the album’s cover art, which consists of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1981 painting ‘Bird on Money’.   The work is representative of Basquiat’s energetic expressionist style, while the main subject of the painting, a black bird, portrays Charlie Parker: a legendary jazz musician and one of Basquiat’s most admired figures (and also known by his nickname ‘Bird’). It has been said that the arrangement of vibrant colors, figures and text in the painting itself attempts to achieve a visual representation of jazz and its surrounding culture.   It is widely known that Basquiat drew significant inspiration from music, which is a recurring theme in many of his artworks. While The Strokes haven’t revealed the reason behind their choice of cover imagery, one can imagine that Bird on Money illustrates a union between art and music, and possibly the way in which the band wants to frame the sound of their comeback album after a seven-year-long break.   As for the music: the band can generally be categorized under the genre of indie rock, but their 2020 sound incorporates elements of new wave, post-punk, and electronica. The album’s songs have also been described by several music critics as reminiscent of 1980s pop, which is even directly referenced in the lyrics of the main single, reflecting a great deal of creative awareness. The New Abnormal contains 9 tracks, with its titles being as follows (singles in bold):

    1. The Adults Are Talking
    2. Selfless
    3. Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus
    4. Bad Decisions
    5. Eternal Summer
    6. At the Door
    7. Why Are Sundays So Depressing
    8. Not the Same Anymore
    9. Ode to the Mets

Key Themes   As it can be inferred by some of the titles, the album’s thematic composition is also incredibly relevant to our times. The New Abnormal speaks of nostalgia, a romanticized vision of the ‘good old days’, a frustrating lack of control over politics and the world’s elites, a seemingly eternal summer that came unexpectedly, and the disheartening boredom of an idle Sunday spent in isolation.   Although most of us are past the stage of full quarantine as of August, it is undeniable that life has slowed down. The New Abnormal, with its introspective lyrics and nostalgic sound combination, comes as an amazingly relatable work, which is strange considering that most of the parallels to the current situation were completely unintentional and foreboding.   Final Thoughts   The critical and popular receptions of The New Abnormal were overwhelmingly positive, and this is no easy feat for a comeback album and for a band like The Strokes, with the sky-high expectations set by the band’s history of chart toppers and a ‘signature sound’ to be judged against.   Having said this, my own judgement is also overwhelmingly positive. The New Abnormal is an absolute must-listen of 2020, especially if you are: a huge fan of 80s rock, thirsty for new music discoveries, nostalgic for the recent past, introspective, bored at home, or in need of some positivity to add into your playlists and days. Personally, I have checked all of the above for a few months now (and I know I’m not the only one).

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