Album Review: Julian Casablancas – Phrazes for the Young (Rough Trade)

Adam Whitehead 5 November 2009

“It’s like a seedless watermelon” said Julian Casablancas when describing First Impressions of Earth, The Strokes’ third album. We can only assume he meant an album with a terrific opening salvo followed by nine uninspired filler tracks. Following this skewed pattern of thinking, Phrazes for the Young is lemon squash, tart and with too much pith but more-ish nonetheless.

Yes, Casablancas has gone for it big time, so much so that upon first listen the extravagant layers of instrumentation prove disorientating. The only exception is “Ludlow St.”, a love letter to pre-Giuliani New York and hangouts of the Velvet Underground, which offers a stripped back moment of reflection. Speaking of the Velvet Underground, the wonderful “Tourist” is like a futuristic rework of “Venus in Furs”. Whereas, “4 Chords of the Apocalypse” is how the soundtrack to Cheers might have sounded if Lou Reed was commissioned to write it. By now you might be thinking things are a bit too grumpy Manhattan hipster, that is until “11th Dimension” comes along. Featuring unashamedly 80’s synths and a soaring chorus, it fills the hole in the power-pop market A-Ha recently left behind.

Undoubtedly, Casablancas would have been well advised to exercise a bit of restraint occasionally. This gripe is a small price to pay though when it’s the playfulness and bombast which make Phrazes… such a delightful record. So it’s a job well done then…and not an awkward fruit-based analogy in sight…

Adam Whitehead