Review: Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young *****

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Jack Binns offers his review of the solo album everyone has been waiting for.

With the release of ‘Phrazes for The Young’ 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 I’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, ‘Phrazes…’ is far more than a fifth of a Strokes album.

Opening track ‘Out of The Blue’ begins with ghostly synth notes dancing over drums straight from ‘Is This It’ before scuffed up power chords join the fun and Julian’s unmistakeable just-woken-up vocals tell us “Somewhere along the way my hopefulness turned to sadness, Somewhere along the way my sadness turned to bitterness…” According to THE MUSIC PRESS (shudder) I’m supposed to read these lines as ‘The Fall and Decline of The Strokes’. However these admissions of anger, sadness and pleasure are exactly why Julian’s lyrics speak so much. Far from the detached proto-hipster, he’s telling us what it’s like to be a person and to be fallible. Perhaps the occasionally narcoleptic delivery doesn’t help; but for me, Casablancas’ skill as a lyricist has always been the most engaging quality in his music.

That’s not to say the music is merely a vehicle for nuggets of wisdom. ‘Left & Right In The Dark’ 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 ‘11th Dimension’ combines a bouncing cow-bell rhythm with triumphal synth stabs and some of the best lyrics on the album (“complicated mammals on the wings of robots”? Yep that’s us). Things get all tense and serious for a few bars before exploding into a chorus reminiscent of ‘Ize of The World’ complete with blaring synths. Although it’s getting late for Songs of The Year, ‘11th Dimension’ deserves to be up with the best.

The pace slows with faux-southern soul ballad ‘4 Chords of The Apocalypse’ and pseudo-country ‘Ludlow St.’. While the smoky jazz bar vocals and instrumentation fit well both just feels out of place given the brilliant high of ‘11th Dimension’. Sure the lyrics are charming (“it’s more important to be nice, I guess than being wise…”) but these songs have been done before (see ’15 Minutes’ from ‘First Impressions of Earth’) and I didn’t get it the first time around. Not that it’ll stop me crooning along to both.

Things stay moody and badly lit with ‘River of Brakelights’. A rubbery synth line and dissonant guitars propel us through the “lava flow of brakelights”. The driving (no pun intended) rhythm and fantastic chorus make this the musical successor to ‘11th Dimension’. Now sing along “Getting the hang of it! Getting the hang of it!”. After a night of driving the automaton sparrows tweet and a broad sunrise of keys shines through the gloom as ‘Glass’ wakes up; ‘epic’ is a word I wouldn’t normally associate with Casablancas but it’s the only thing that works when the chorus hits. We stick with epic and moody for closing song ‘Tourist’. A swaggering rhythm opens complete pan-global guitars/sitar/horn things. If anyone doubts that Julian has matured a songwriter then ‘Tourist’ should prove them wrong; as a round of brass circles the final chorus we are left with the line: “Everywhere I go I’m a tourist, but if you stay with me I’ll always be at home”. Sweet.

It’s no secret that Julian Casablancas is the main creative force behind The Strokes and ‘Phrazes For The Young’ will no doubt be thought of as a Strokes album that can’t be made. But perhaps this is too cynical. It’s far harder for a ‘side-project’ to be taken seriously as an artistic expression than it is for a musician’s ‘main band’ but if any of the Strokes offspring deserves consideration, if not lauding then ‘Phrazes for The Young’ is it.

4.99/5

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