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Review

Julian Casablancas succeeds with first solo album ‘Phrazes for the Young’

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November 6, 2009

It seems like a lifetime ago that the mega-hyped Strokes were reveling in their newly-proclaimed greatness, having rapidly skyrocketed up the buzz-lists of 2001 into stratospheric popularity and acclaim to match. Within a week of their first release, “Is This It,” the garage-rockers were proclaimed by critics as “the greatest rock band since the Rolling Stones, as well as “forefathers,” who were supposed to triumphantly usher in a brand new attitude to rock and roll and give birth to a 21st century musical golden age.

The hype-machine has long since lost most of it’s steam, and once the hysteria subdued, the New York quintet proved that they were simply an excellent band, not a revolutionary one. While they were once supersaturated with an aura of coolness, most of them have now heavily toned down their hard-partying, womanizing lifestyles.

Even lead man Julian Casablancas, who, in the past, often stumbled on stage at live concerts so drunk he was unable to see, has grown up.

“Creatively, drinking was becoming a hindrance. I’ve always promised myself, ‘If it starts affecting the music, I’ve got to chill out,’” he told GQ. “It was so nice to automatically feel happy. I miss it every day.”

Now sober, the 31-year-old still looks almost exactly the same, and has lost little swagger. His debut solo album, “Phrazes for the Young,” marks his first foray into the recording studio alone.

The record’s name comes from a book of Oscar Wilde’s, and is a groovy, diverse undertaking that sees Casablancas evolve from a scratchy, off-kilter, Lou Reed-esque vocalist into more of a diverse, multi-talented musician.

The first track, “Out of the Blue,” introduces jangly, Strokes-flavored guitar riffs that melt together perfectly with Casablancas’ hazy drawl. In addition, it features some of the most delightfully deadpan lyrical offerings: “Yes, I know I’m going to hell in a leather jacket / At least I’ll be in another world / But you’ll be pissing on my casket.”

“11th Dimension,” features an immediately catchy 80s synth hook is filled with a detached charisma, as if Casablancas is trying to say that he is still cooler than all of us. “I’ll just nod, I’ve never been so good at shaking hands,” he confesses in the opening line.

The Strokes references essentially end here, as ‘Phrazes’ offers a plethora of new flavors as Casablancas branches out toward new avenues in creative fashion. “Ludlow St.” begins with an oddly pitched, shrill output that morphs into a whimsical, country western trip through memory lane accentuated by a staccato bajo twang. “River of Breaklights,” in contrast, is a frantic, up-and-down number that includes a gritty, heavy bassline as well as seemingly random electronica interjections.

At times, “Phrazes” feels like it is at the cusp of something truly awesome, but ultimately feels like a collection of unrelated, scattershot sound bites that don’t quite know how to fit together. Still, JC has created something that can be admired on its own-a hip and able LP that, if nothing else, is a fascinating (if unsure) creative departure.

Andrew Phelps is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.