Editors' pick

Julian Casablancas

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Editorial Review

CD Review: "Phrazes for the Young"

The seven-inch single, the ultimate musical statement of brevity, is experiencing a resurgence. Perhaps Julian Casablancas should have considered that medium for his solo debut. "Phrazes for the Young," the first LP from the Strokes' frontman (link) -- the voice of early-'00s New York City cool -- gets off to a blazing start but drops off a cliff faster than Wile E. Coyote.

Opener "Out of the Blue" allays any fears that Casablancas has lost his songwriting touch. Like the finest Strokes songs, it's a masterpiece of interlocking parts -- a chugging guitar riff serves as the steady base but it's when the lead guitar and keyboard are sprinkled on top during the chorus that things really take off. With his cough-syrup croon, Casablancas tosses off disaffected one-liners such as "All that I can do is sing a song of faded glory / All you got to do is sit there, look great and make them horny." "Left & Right in the Dark" and "11th Dimension" continue the torrid pace. Casablancas keeps to the unwritten rule that all solo albums must feature at least 75 percent more synthesizer than whatever the main band uses, but trading in some garage-rock swagger for retro-danceability proves to be a good deal.

The less said about the rest of the album, the better. It gets ugly quickly, and with each of the final five tracks topping the five-minute mark, feels truly interminable. "4 Chords of the Apocalypse" is a miserable attempt at digital doo-wop. "Ludlow St." serves as the blueprint for the rest of the record, a dull dirge punctuated by annoying keyboard sounds and endless bellowing by Casablancas. Coming on the heels of his best compositions in years makes it all the more disappointing.

-- David Malitz, Nov. 2009