Review Summary: Phrazes for the Young is a valiant effort, but the most obvious positive factor of Casablancas' first solo release is that we now know where his voice should stay- with The Strokes"With this album, I can do whatever I want, but I wouldn't want to do that with the Strokes."
... so says Strokes frontman, Julian Casablancas, in a recent interview, referring to his new release and first solo album, Phrazes for the Young
. I found his last comment here to be stunningly obvious yet very telling. In his stint with The Strokes, Casablancas had achieved his way to, or at least towards, indie stardom. Tight melodies, witty one-liners, and most notably Casablancas’ mellow vocals: The Strokes had plenty of fans at their fingertips no matter what country they were in. Phrazes for the Young
isn’t going to capitalize on this grand fan base, and in truth I can’t imagine Casablancas gaining too many new friends over this. Though, to refer back to the aforementioned quote, this isn’t an artist looking to garner fans, this is Julian Casablancas setting out to make the music he wants to hear. If that happens to be his lonely voice over some bland yet Strokes-eque guitar lines and 80’s synth-pop, then so be it; but Phrazes for the Young
is not meant to profit from The Strokes success. Despite some similarities, this feels like an entirely different entity.
It’s easy to see why The Strokes became so successful earlier this decade. In my experience at least, mothers, hipsters, radio rockers, no matter what the taste, everyone loved those tightly wound and hurried beats with Casablancas’ signature croon. The biggest problem with Phrazes
is that, when devoid of those rushed, tight beats backing him, Casablancas’ droning voice becomes a little less lovable. “4 Chords of the Apocalypse” displays this well, as Julian’s slow warble bores like never before. The synth beats and the futuristic chirps and beeps throughout are definitely cheesy, and I can’t help but wonder why Casablancas would strive for this type production. Before I start giving Phrazes its fair share of credit, one last gripe needs to be addressed- the song length. Though the album spans a brief eight songs, most songs on Phrazes
last longer than a tiring 5 minutes. Casablancas could’ve definitely ameliorated this listen with a more listener-friendly format. Once again, I refer back to the opening quote for his assumed explanation.
Please don’t take my negative ranting about Phrazes
too seriously, as there are definitely positives to be found here. First and foremost is the apparent emotion that Casablancas has provides. The first lines show a manifest detraction from the neutrality and lack of feeling that Casablancas displayed with his party-boy, “I-don’t-really-give-a-***” anthems with The Strokes. "Somewhere along the way, my hopefulness turned to sadness/ Somewhere along the way, my sadness turned to bitterness/ Somewhere along the way, my bitterness turned to anger,”
he says with his signature Casablancas croon.
Also apparent is a newfound sense of variety. It seems like Julian is throwing the entire inventory at the wall, and now he’s waiting to see what sticks. From the up-tempo electronically-tinged single “11th Dimension,” to Julian getting serious on us with his complaints of yuppie infiltration, complete with a banjo solo, in “Ludlow St.,” to the 80’s synth-pop burner “Out of the Blue,” Casablancas was bound to hit gold with this many attempts. Predictably, some work and some Julian is going to want to send back to the 80’s. “11th Dimension” does an adequate job of reliving that catchiness that defined The Strokes, but for me it only served as a reminder that nothing else on Phrazes for the Young
reaches that same plane in terms of catchiness.
Give the kid some credit, he took some chances. And while most of them don’t quite work, Casablancas deserves some respect for straying outside of his comfort zone and, at the very least, creating an interesting record. Phrazes for the Young
is not what I expected to hear, but to be honest I can’t say I’m very disappointed. You know that cheesy phrase, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Well, even though Casablancas can’t say he got THAT far, he at least makes it to the clouds. Phrazes for the Young
is a valiant effort, but it also shows that Casablancas and his voice should probably stick where it fits best, with The Strokes.