Paul Banks and Julian Casablancas both have solo records. It’s like 2004 was 20 years ago and we’re all very old. Banks hid beneath a pseudonym; Casablancas kept the audacity of his actual name. When your name is Julian Casablancas, you’re overrated from birth.
Funny you should mention: Casablancas’ band, the Strokes, were recently awarded the No.1 album of the decade by NME. That album, Is This It, was flirty and cool and tossed-off and not as good as its maligned successor, Room On Fire. Just putting that out there. The Strokes, like most bands of a certain kind, were always just an essence anyway. I mimicked every move they made for two years and I still don’t really know any of the lyrics.
Perhaps aware of the disconnect, the Strokes in recent years spent time apart: getting married, moonlighting in baby bands, boning up on reality. Side gigs by Fab Moretti and Albert Hammond Jr. were okay but pretty non-divergent from the mix: step in, jangle, step out. It fell to Mr. Casablancas to make something other, something that wouldn’t argue merely for the five of them being in the same room again. Phrazes For The Young, based on early talk, would be New Wavey and nostalgic and, importantly, not a Strokes record.
That ended up being mostly true. Casablancas definitely didn’t flub complete creative control. He manages the record exceptionally between decades: late-sixties shamble here, early-eighties fleshiness there. Conceptually Phrazes rigs a kind of dialogue between Casablancas the boozy lover and Casablancas the sore loser. The former’s the original Strokes iteration, the latter’s a damaged product of late-decade disillusionment (thank you, First Impressions Of Earth). In the rare moments when both selves are in full light it’s kind of mesmeric. One such conspicuous overlap: “Sometimes I might have used tricks to make you like me more,” from the excellent “Left & Right In The Dark.” On “Out of the Blue” he snarls, “I know I’m going to hell in a purple basket/ at least I’ll be in another world/ while you’re pissing on my casket.” (Big ups for including the word ‘purple’ in there ’cause if that lyric isn’t purple it’s at least puce.) There’s talk of catches in voices, pleasure turning to madness, being important v. being despised. “No one really cares or wonders why anymore,” in “11th Dimension,” preceded by about a single bar the word “gizzard.” As I remember Julian was always pretty good at ‘whatever’.
Diversity factor? It’s high—Moogy funk on “4 Chords of the Apocalypse,” faint boom-chicka-boom on “Out of the Blue,” a mariachi quality for “Tourist.” “Ludlow Street” starts with a kind of cult-horror overlay summarily swept away by a droll country dustdown. “Glass” tinkers with multi-tracked guitars and is kind of accidentally beautiful. The vocals are mixed slightly higher than on the old band stuff and he sounds fantastic. He pretty much had the best voice of his generation already.
Meanwhile, “11th Dimension” is something the Strokes never quite got right: a rock song for the dance floor. Drum machines pummel, strobey synths honk and shimmer, and it’s as good as anything out of that L.A. dreamwave scene. Its mortal line “I live on the frozen surface of a fireball” may or may not be dissing a Strokes reunion, but if they don’t reconstitute soon it’s okay. Julian’s got this.
The Strokes – Room On Fire
Lou Reed – Coney Island Baby
The Cars – Candy-O