The first solo album from Strokes front man Julian Casablancas is certainly living up to its hype—because there wasn’t any. In fact, he describes “Phrazes for the Young” as a way to “kill boredom” while The Strokes continue their indefinite hiatus. (Although, for the second consecutive year, Casablancas tells us that recording for the fourth Strokes album will begin in January…we’ll see.)
Though not anticipated, the release of “Phrazes for the Young” is not surprising, as it positions Casablancas as the fourth member of the band to embark on a solo or side project over the past three years. (The others include Albert Hammond Jr., “Yours to Keep,” 2006 and “Como Te Llama?” 2008; Nikolai Fraiture as Nickel Eye, “The Time of the Assassins,” 2009; and Fab Moretti with Little Joy, self-titled, 2009.)
Fans of The Strokes will not be disappointed by the album’s cutting, introspective and honest lyrics that manage to be dark yet hopeful at the same time—the bread and butter of The Strokes, with Casablancas as their main lyricist. Also expect occasional whirling guitars (think “12:51”) and instrumental tracks that overpower the vocal track (think the entire 2003 album “Room on Fire”).
For me, the album’s first two tracks, “Out of the Blue” and “Left & Right in the Dark” are the best. From the first chord of “Out of the Blue,” I experienced the same chills I felt the first time I heard “Is This It” (2001). It’s a weak-in-the-knees, butterflies-in-your-stomach, can’t-stop-listening-for-days kind of feeling, and it’s absolutely amazing.
And then, he lost me. Casablancas’ lyrics are still compelling—some of the best in alt rock today. And the music is still well-orchestrated, despite the fact that pop-snyth (“11th Dimension”) and country swagger (“Ludlow Street”) aren’t my thing. But somehow, much of the remaining album falls short (and dare I say is a little boring?) of my expectations.
“Phrazes for the Young” disappoints in much the same way as The Strokes’ third album “First Impressions of Earth” (2006). Both start off with a bang and then stop. Not literally, of course, but they stop being relevant as a whole and leave us wanting more.
However, much like The Strokes were heralded as the second coming of the Velvet Underground, Casablancas’ may very well be the second coming of Lou Reed. From a literary perspective, the words are sheer poetry.