Rough Trade (label)
02 November 2009 (released)
03 November 2009
I sometimes wonder, with all their inheritance and privilege, whether The Strokes bought some 'talent beans’: probably from an old sailor who’d arrived in Port Authority in the mid-Nineties.
'Use them sparingly’, I imagined the old sailor had said, 'because they will run out one day’.
'Whatever, Grandpa’, an unnervingly deep voiced but pre-pubescent Julian Casablancas would retort as he scurried away to use these magic beans.
Yet, because the NY rich kids had no understanding of the value of things, they splurged the vast majority of the bean-goodness on their first effort, the ever-glorious 'Is This It’.
It’s easy to forget that Coldplay had stolen the future of guitar music before The Strokes reclaimed it: Chris Martin has been exiled to the piano ever since. For that, I will forever be thankful. Clever beans.
But then disaster.
When the world wanted more from the five youthful New Yorkers, all but a few of the beans had already been gobbled up. Scraping the barrel of the tin (mixing metaphors is a sign of literary talent, okay?), 'Room On Fire’ was able to present just enough genuine brilliance to keep the fans enthralled. The Tron-inspired video didn’t do any harm either.
Once they’d got to 'First Impressions of Earth’, however, the beans were totally gone. Finished. That’s not to say that the band’s third effort was an unenjoyable listen; yet, without Casablancas achieving that extra level of songwriting skill, 'First Impressions,’ was exposed as a collection of pastiches, taking from Iggy Pop, The Cars and even, pathetically, Razorlight.
It has since felt as though the Strokes may never return and some have even started to cast doubt if they were ever that important in the first place.
Luckily (for me as a music fan and for all those people who’ve dedicated their lives to science), those magic beans almost certainly never existed. Whilst scientists will rely on logic and evidence to prove this, all that music fans need is to hear is 'Phrazes for the Young’; Casablancas’ first solo album.
The first track, 'Out of the Blue’ is, in many ways, how you might expect The Strokes to be sounding in 2009. The sandpaper and glue voice quickly reminds you of how much you’ve missed listening to new Strokes material and gets you ready to listen to an alternative album from the band.
What follows is, however, nothing like The Strokes at all.
On 'Phrazes,’, Casablancas has created a scrapbook of influences which mirrors back to the listener an image of the generation to which he belongs. Casio keyboards and affected untidiness give a clear nod to the anti-Folk movement which hovers through the entire album.
Similarly, Ludlow St’s cool-but-awkward Country feel records the celebratory sound of a great song-smith discovering a new instrument (the banjo) to test his creativity on. Left or Right Side of the Dark (which is likely to be a single at some point) takes the well-crafted sci-fi atmosphere of 12:51 and strips it back to the star-bound wonderings of a geeky teenager.
Each track has soaked up some other slightly familiar part of popular culture and reworked it into something brand new. This album fizzes with the energy of a man finally able to express another side of his identity.
The stand out track on this album, therefore, is '4 Chords of the Apocalypse’. Reimagining the songs of Bill Withers, Lou Reed and with an extra pinch of Unchained Melody, this is an anthem of the sort we have not seen from Casablancas before. He even manages to get a Brian May-style solo into the song, and make it work.
I always thought that there was no need for a solo Julian Casablancas: I had Adam Green for that. Not only has The Strokes’ front man proved me wrong, he’s made me eager to hear his next effort too.
This won’t win any prizes or be classed as a classic album but, like an aural packet of Pringles, once you’ve put this album on it will be a challenge to take off.