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Going back to get back…

Julian Casablancas
Phrazes for the Young

Grand Theft Auto III was an awesome video game, complete with an attitude nothing else on the market could mess with. After racking up so many hours playing, it became clear that the game could use a change of scenery. Raunchy Liberty City got old. When Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released, complete with a 1980’s setting and shiny new weapons and cars, the results were electric. The swagger was back.

You might be able to guess where this is going.

The Strokes were an awesome band. But the New York City rockers burned out (third album, 2006’s First Impressions of the Earth, well, sucks). The members needed a change of scenery and we got solo attempts and side projects from all of them, except lead singer Julian Casablancas. Until now. Finally, Casablancas delivers Phrazes for the Young, complete with 80’s synths and shiny production. Yes, the results are electric. But is the swagger back?

Only eight songs long (the “deluxe” version has three bonus tracks), Phrazes will leave you drooling for more, whether that means another Casablancas solo record or a fourth Strokes LP. At the same time, this is not Is This It? Casablancas. Production has caused some of his edgy vocals to become, put simply, less cool. More President Obama than candidate Obama.

You might not notice, though. Album opener “Out of the Blue” is truly a great rock song. The Strokes’ who-gives-a-you-know-what attiude shines immediately as Casablancas states “yes I know I’m going to Hell in a leather jacket, at least I’ll be in another world while you’re pissing on my casket.” Then, somewhat unexpectedly, a soaring… plea? “How could you be, ooooohhhhhhhhh, so perfect for me?”

It’s better than anything from The Strokes’ last effort.

Then comes the memorable electro beat in “11th Dimension,” Casablancas’ first solo single. And “4 Chords of the Apocalypse,” although not anything too mind blowing, is notable for its kick-ass guitar solo at 2:14.

Afterwards, Casablancas gives a bit of a history lesson on the Lower Eastside of New York in “Ludlow St.” Here he throws in a out-of-nowhere country twang. It’s not like Casablancas could show up to the CMA’s with a cowboy hat on and win best new artist (unlike Hootie of the Blowfish), but it’s still a surprise.

And while the song is one of the most interesting parts of Phrazes for the Young, it also uncovers one of the album’s downfalls, that Casablancas goes overboard at times. He uses what sounds like anything and everything that was available in the studio, sometimes building too many layers. Meanwhile, that exact drawback becomes a strength on the epic “River of Brakelights.” It’s a materialism lesson just in time for Black Friday shoppers.

On “Tourist,” which closes Phrazes, Casablancas seemingly tells the listener he’s not comfortable anywhere in an ever-urbanizing world (“I feel like a tourist lost in the suburbs, soon the whole world will be urban sprawl, feel like a land lover out on the ocean, feel like a teardrop streaming off your chin”).

That made me wonder if Casablancas had lost his swagger. Luckily, bonus track “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” kicks in, a “Saturday Night Live” cover. I wondered no longer. Only an artist like Casablancas could pull that off.

It all goes to show that, well Phrazes for the Young isn’t perfect, at least one member of The Strokes still has the swagger that helped make the band famous. Casablancas just needed a change of scenery.


  1. November 24, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Great review – makes me want to get the album (even though I’m only a semi-committed Strokes fan). Cheers, Nigel

  1. July 31, 2014 at 8:00 am

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