Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Julian Casablancas, "Phrazes for the Young" (RCA) [2.5 out of 4 STARS]

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One of the most exciting bands to emerge in the new millennium, the Strokes have spent much of the time since their 2001 debut "Is This It" lowering the expectations set by that classically New York, Velvet Underground-influenced explosion of droning melodies, speed-fueled guitars and runaway subway train rhythms. "Room on Fire" (2003) and "First Impressions of Earth" (2006) were hardly dismal efforts, but neither expanded the basic formula the way the Velvets continually stretched the boundaries of their sound, and the wait for album number four has officially grown interminable as band members are torn by the constant distractions of various solo projects.

Now the group's voice, primary songwriter and laidback if undeniable leader has given us his solo bow, a concise, eight-track, 40-minute set that takes its name from an Oscar Wilde essay ("Phrases and Philosophies for Use of the Young") and which veers far and wide for the sort of stylistic diversity sorely missing in the Strokes. Unfortunately, the results only make a fan miss that band more.

Julian Casablancas' delightfully laconic vocals remain as appealing as ever, and he still flaunts an unerring ear for hooks so casual and seemingly effortless you forget how infectious they are. These talents shine on the opening "Out of the Blue" and "Left & Right in the Dark," as well as the dark but frenetic "River of Brake Lights." But these suffer from the sterile computer rhythms; why use a drum machine when you have one of the greatest human rhythm machines in rock with Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti?

Elsewhere, though memorable melodies still abound, Casablancas sounds painfully out of his element--a New Yorker dressed head to toe in black leather stranded on a sunny beach. Witness the misguided lo-fi dance track "11th Dimension," the awkward computer-orchestrated ballad "Glass" or the bizarre drunken blues/uptight freak-folk of "Ludlow St." One wishes that producers Jason Lader and Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) would have provided a bit more guidance. But one wishes even more for the return of Casablancas' old prep school mates.

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3 Comments

Very much agree with this. The three tracks you single out as the strongest are definitely the highlights, but I do also enjoy "11th Dimension" and think it works. So far the others haven't grabbed hold. Also, I'm wondering why so many of the songs on here meander past (or nearly past) the five minute mark. It's a disservice to most of them.

I do understand your criticism. Yet, on the other side of things, are you trying to compare it to the Strokes? A solo album by an artist while still working with that same band, is that fair. I am not saying it is or it is not, but to ask him to bring in the drummer for the Strokes on the album makes this review a bit unfair. Let me just say that Fab Moretti actually has another band called Little Joy, who played Chicago. Along with Albert Hammond Jr., and Nikolai Fraiture in his band Nickel Eye. He tried to do something different by himself. If he brings The Strokes in that is a completely different dynamic for the album. They play rock. Did Thom Yorke bring in Colin Greenwood for his solo album which if you listened to Eraser sounded nothing like anything. You want to hear Hard to Explain and Last Nite, yet all you hear is something much different. I recite this to you, "One wishes that producers Jason Lader and Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) would have provided a bit more guidance. But one wishes even more for the return of Casablancas' old prep school mates." Please note, his school mates will return on a Strokes album, but he is not making a Strokes album, he is making a Julian Casablancas album. You want the Strokes and like myself, you will have to wait probably for another year at least. I know it hurts to wait so long, but it will be that much better. Please tell me that these songs are so mediocre. Come on, please. If you knew anything about the Strokes, which obviously, you do not is that Julian wrote everything on the first two albums that you seem to love so much. The only song on the first two albums not completely written by him was Automatic Stop (Albert Hammond Jr.) on Room on Fire. Yes, a huge one in its own right. And, yes I started this sentence with a conjunction, your feeling of this album are simple and without any real value. I am not being sarcastic. I am being truthful. Why use a drum machine? The whole point and direction of the album was to move into an 80's type of sound where synthesizers and drum machines were common...Not the 70's feel of VU where guitar was present. You say VU expanded their boundaries, how about JC on this album, where he said no to the 70's garage rock sound and said yes to the 80's sythesizers that are so popular in bands like the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and MGMT. My hand now hurts from writing an entirely new review.
PS
I just saw who wrote this review and laughed.

i disagree with the review as well. it is a deliberately different approach and sound palette. and "11th dimension" is hardly misguided! it's a delightful, sunny, optimistic pop song. the album shows casablancas' range as a songwriter and musician. it's quite touching to see how optimistic he can be at times now that he's sober and married. some highlights for me are the very pretty "glass," "11th dimension," and the Casio + reggae tune "left & right in the dark." really every song on here has something to offer.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on October 29, 2009 9:46 AM.

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