“Phrazes For The Young” (2009) by Julian Casablancas
Completely isolating fans of his ridiculously successful band, the Strokes, Julian Casablancas has kicked off his solo career with something so different from his usual material that everyone will raise their eyebrows at least once throughout the course of the record. And not in a good way. The thing is, Phrazes For The Young breaks no new ground – this is the same thing that was done by MGMT two years earlier, it’s just not as good as theirs. This LP is really just synthpop in its truest form – pure, boring, synthpop.
You see, the good synthpop bands do original things, mixing it up a little. Like the Magnetic Fields, or MGMT, or Mew. They all make sure that what they do isn’t just average. Casablancas, on the other hand, doesn’t seem too concerned with being original, and is just playing what he wants to play. And good on him for not caring, I suppose, but that doesn’t have to make it good. The thing is, when you listen to this record, it seems like you’ve heard it all before. Like he’s grabbed a bunch of classic synthpop songs from the 80s, with their trademark cringe-worthy lyrics, and covered them.
The songs are too long. If he wants to write pop songs, with such energy and power as they do, then they can’t all be five minutes long. One or two on the album, fine, that’s a good idea. But when the majority of the songs on the 8 track record are over 5 minutes, that’s getting a bit overboard. The real win-factor for this record is his voice. It’s great, as it always has been. Even it, however, seems to be a little bit weak when compared to his Strokes releases – there’s no emphasis on his powerful screams or catchy, simple melodic lines. And without these factors, his voice seems a little bit lackluster, like it’s missing something vital.
It just hasn’t got the dream-like quality of Mew, or the bubbly-ness of MGMT or the Magnetic Fields. As well as that, some of the tracks (such as “River Of Brakelights”) seem to be a failed attempt at being Radiohead-inspired. It really doesn’t work within the record’s style. A brave attempt, but a failed attempt too. It’s got a clever wordplay at the end, but the melody is fairly shit and forced, and the lyric that is played on is also shit.
Phrazes For The Young is a good first effort for Casablancas, but it’s not something that’s going to be remembered alongside his other releases.
Choice tracks: Left & Right In The Dark; River Of Brakelights; Glass
If you like: MGMT, Mew, Vampire Weekend