The album cover catches an 19th century Julian relaxing in a nice arm chair in a nice studio. Pay attention to the colour in the background. However grimaced Julian may act, the colour in the background suggests the colourful, melodic core that is sometimes hiding in the Strokes' songs, but no longer does so on his first solo LP.
"Somewhere along the way that pleasure turned to madness/somewhere along the way that madness turned to pain". Although the drums on this record are synthetic, the soul comes off in his voice, and instrumentation. I feel like Julian, on this record, took off his leather jacket and traded it for a corderoy one. The choruses on this record are some of the best in years. It is virtually impossible to not sing along to the infectuous melodies in "Out of the Blue", "11th Dimension" and "Left and Right in the Dark". Because there are only 8 songs, Julian sort of gets in and gets out, which doesn't suggest that the record doesn't satisfy; because it certainly does. Definitely not the feeling you would expect from an 8 song LP.
When I first heard of this album, I was afraid it would be too similar to a Strokes record, but not good enough. It turns out, "Phrazes for the Young" is actually better than the last two albums from the Strokes, in my opinion. Casablancas has definitely taken time to grow up, sit back, and observe the world he's created for himself. "Watching the urban decay, all around us, oh boy", suggests that he's drawing from more mature, stable inspirations on "Phrazes". Most of the songs, like I said, boast racing choruses that force the listener to sing along. The verses, are a little bit more introverted, but the lyrics definitely show off some of his wisdom. "Left and Right in the Dark" has a sort of industrial slide to it; very airtight. "11th Dimension" takes the record to a little bit more fantasy-like place; "I live on the frozen surface of a fire ball". Interesting. The chorus, however, "forgive them/even if they are not sorry" continues the maturity of the record so far. But when I say maturity, I don't mean that Casablancas has lost his bad ass, and silly sides. Rather, I think he's found a happy medium between experience and naivity.
After the first three tracks, the record cools off a little bit. "4 Chords of the Apocalypse" is softer, and even gospel-esque (?!). The Rhodes organ gives it a nice stammer, and the chorus allows him to stretch his vocal chords once more. "Ludlow Street" proves that the world has changed, and Julian has grown up and even changed with it. The song, a description of one of his favourite streets in New York that has since gone through drastic changes. New York is definitely changing. This song allows Julian to really open up, and reveals insight to his past; "Everything seems to go wrong when I start drinking", alluding to his childhood drinking problem. "River of Brakelights" is the only dud on this album, surprisingly, but does not hinder the album altogether in any way. "Glass" starts with a ghostly whistling that sort of makes you feel like you're in a dark alley. I hate to dote on the same thing, but "Glass" has another incredible chorus. I really cannot believe how impressive the melodies are on this album. If the first three tracks are sing along-type choruses, then "Glass" is the epic, deep, anthemic chorus, that really represents the height of the album.
"Tourist" is a dark, world-esque closer of an album. And, for the last time, a great chorus hook. The beat in this song is very percussive and swaying, complimented by sentiments of a traveler. "Feel like a tourist in the big city", possibly suggesting that Julian has no real home. Who knows. Perhaps not everything on this album is meant to be analyzed like this, which is why I try not to over-analyze it. For me, this album could be the highlight of his career, both lyrically, and melodically. I feel like he has created something greater than just a solo record, and these songs deserve to be listened to in their own right, which I have done many many times, and I'd encourage you to do so as well. And after one chorus, I know you'll be hooked.
Key Tracks: "Glass", "Out of the Blue"