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Jack Binns offers his review of the solo album everyone has been waiting for.
With the release of â€˜Phrazes for The Youngâ€™ Julian Casablancas is the fourth member of The Strokes to release solo material. This might as well mean the last member of The Strokes since there is no sign of Nick Valensi releasing any solo material. So what have we been waiting for? Well if Iâ€™m honest no one was expecting a great deal, the bar set by his band mates is a fairly low one with Albert Hammond Jr. releases perhaps being the high point. Luckily for us, and Julian, â€˜Phrazes…â€™ is far more than a fifth of a Strokes album.
Opening track â€˜Out of The Blueâ€™ begins with ghostly synth notes dancing over drums straight from â€˜Is This Itâ€™ before scuffed up power chords join the fun and Julianâ€™s unmistakeable just-woken-up vocals tell us â€œSomewhere along the way my hopefulness turned to sadness, Somewhere along the way my sadness turned to bitterness…â€ According to THE MUSIC PRESS (shudder) Iâ€™m supposed to read these lines as â€˜The Fall and Decline of The Strokesâ€™. However these admissions of anger, sadness and pleasure are exactly why Julianâ€™s lyrics speak so much. Far from the detached proto-hipster, heâ€™s telling us what itâ€™s like to be a person and to be fallible. Perhaps the occasionally narcoleptic delivery doesnâ€™t help; but for me, Casablancasâ€™ skill as a lyricist has always been the most engaging quality in his music.
Thatâ€™s not to say the music is merely a vehicle for nuggets of wisdom. â€˜Left & Right In The Darkâ€™ has a playful slinky guitar line which snakes around the rhythm and synth-organ before the chorus kicks in with a sing-along vocal. Lead single â€˜11th Dimensionâ€™ combines a bouncing cow-bell rhythm with triumphal synth stabs and some of the best lyrics on the album (â€œcomplicated mammals on the wings of robotsâ€? Yep thatâ€™s us). Things get all tense and serious for a few bars before exploding into a chorus reminiscent of â€˜Ize of The Worldâ€™ complete with blaring synths. Although itâ€™s getting late for Songs of The Year, â€˜11th Dimensionâ€™ deserves to be up with the best.
The pace slows with faux-southern soul ballad â€˜4 Chords of The Apocalypseâ€™ and pseudo-country â€˜Ludlow St.â€™. While the smoky jazz bar vocals and instrumentation fit well both just feels out of place given the brilliant high of â€˜11th Dimensionâ€™. Sure the lyrics are charming (â€œit’s more important to be nice, I guess than being wise…â€) but these songs have been done before (see â€™15 Minutesâ€™ from â€˜First Impressions of Earthâ€™) and I didnâ€™t get it the first time around. Not that itâ€™ll stop me crooning along to both.
Things stay moody and badly lit with â€˜River of Brakelightsâ€™. A rubbery synth line and dissonant guitars propel us through the â€œlava flow of brakelightsâ€. The driving (no pun intended) rhythm and fantastic chorus make this the musical successor to â€˜11th Dimensionâ€™. Now sing along â€œGetting the hang of it! Getting the hang of it!â€. After a night of driving the automaton sparrows tweet and a broad sunrise of keys shines through the gloom as â€˜Glassâ€™ wakes up; â€˜epicâ€™ is a word I wouldnâ€™t normally associate with Casablancas but itâ€™s the only thing that works when the chorus hits. We stick with epic and moody for closing song â€˜Touristâ€™. A swaggering rhythm opens complete pan-global guitars/sitar/horn things. If anyone doubts that Julian has matured a songwriter then â€˜Touristâ€™ should prove them wrong; as a round of brass circles the final chorus we are left with the line: â€œEverywhere I go Iâ€™m a tourist, but if you stay with me Iâ€™ll always be at homeâ€. Sweet.
Itâ€™s no secret that Julian Casablancas is the main creative force behind The Strokes and â€˜Phrazes For The Youngâ€™ will no doubt be thought of as a Strokes album that canâ€™t be made. But perhaps this is too cynical. Itâ€™s far harder for a â€˜side-projectâ€™ to be taken seriously as an artistic expression than it is for a musicianâ€™s â€˜main bandâ€™ but if any of the Strokes offspring deserves consideration, if not lauding then â€˜Phrazes for The Youngâ€™ is it.