Mark, My Words: how The Strokes are helping me get through The New Abnormal

Longtime FOMO sufferer Mark Beaumont on why the fab five are the best Lockdown Machine imaginable

Fomo’s a bitch. Not only did it force me to go and watch Years & Years once – it’s kept me permanently intoxicated at paying bar aftershow parties for most of my adult working life. Even in lockdown, it stings – I just can’t shake the seething suspicion that everyone else is having far more glamorous, exciting and Zoombooze-drenched incarceration than me.

I haven’t sung a single neighbourhood chorus, recreated one classical painting or conspired with my most tone-deaf peers to mercilessly murder any John Lennon songs. I haven’t even managed to finally appreciate the true beauty of nature cleansing itself of humanity’s pollution, since the furthest I’ve jogged is to my personal Wine Gum mountain and back.

I put it down to all the livestreaming I’ve been watching. Nothing makes you feel more like a lockdown loser than seeing how the rich and famous are doing it. There’s Paul Simon and Woody Harrelson singing an Everly Brothers tune together, because of course Woody Harrelson would self-isolate round Paul Simon’s gaff. There’s EDM duo Sofi Tukker dropping rave sets from a particularly happening kitchenette. I watch Neil Young crooning from a wilderness hideaway and envy his connection to the great outdoors. The more I watch earnest acoustic sessions involving lots of apologetic tuning, the more I wish I worked in what’s clearly a recession-proof industry of hanging guitars on musicians’ walls.

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I’m finding my solace in tighter spaces. The flat-locked lotharios trying to seduce the downstairs neighbours by pouring them a glass of wine from their windows. The Mash Reports recorded in Nish Kumar’s airing cupboard. And the music that sounds most subterranean, like it too hasn’t seen daylight since Rishi Sunak started putting so many gaps in his worker rescue plans that he seems to have modelled the post-virus economy on a game of giant pub Jenga.

So the return of The Strokes has been music to my mole-like ears. Their long-awaited new album ‘The New Abnormal’ does not jog, like the new Killers tunes. It does not fling open the windows and breathe in the newly alpine air, full of waves and birdsong, like the short film announcing the release of Laura Marling’s (brilliant) new album. It’s a record that sounds, at least, like the work of men in a windowless basement bent obsessively over computers, trying to find new ways to entertain themselves, occasionally losing their shit to Weezer and ELO. And to that, I can relate.

Too late to postpone and early enough to catch us before we all turn to 24-hour sexcam work to pay the rent, The Strokes’ comeback couldn’t have been better timed. I can’t be the only one for whom it’s provided a welcome distraction from all the hypocritical government briefings and fighting in supermarkets. And where once The Strokes were the ultimate fomo band, cruising the East Village like a malnourished Rat Pack, now their more – ahem – hedonistic days and nights are behind them and they’ve all got kids, so they have to endure all the same Peppa Pig marathons that I do.

From the record, title-down, you might even conclude that they saw all this coming. The early synth verses of ‘At The Door’ bristle with the tension and unease of encountering a close-up postman. ‘Eternal Summer’ greets the glorious new season with all the snarling, isolated frustration of Roger Waters on ‘The Wall’. ‘Bad Decisions’ even reads like America’s natural reaction to a pandemic: “Pick up your gun, put up your gloves”. ‘Why Are Sundays So Depressing?’, they ask, a pertinent question for the lockdown age. Remember Sundays?

Their regular Zoom-based broadcast Five Guys Talking About Things They Know Nothing About is turning into a remarkably accurate reflection of our own office group-chats too. Stilted, self-conscious and plagued by glitches, it staggers awkwardly by with everyone clearly wondering if it could’ve been an email, then gets brilliant in the last three minutes when they all lose their minds, try to play ‘La Bamba’ with a crippling internet delay and admit they’ve been shitting in a corner for the past two weeks.

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Julian Casablancas even broadcasts from what appears to be a poster-festooned teenager’s bedroom, so for the first time we can confidently say that we are The Strokes, and The Strokes are us. Corona is a great leveller indeed.

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