Julian Casablancas, “Phrazes for the Young” (RCA) [2.5 out of 4 STARS]

SHARE Julian Casablancas, “Phrazes for the Young” (RCA) [2.5 out of 4 STARS]

One of the most exciting bands to emerge in the new millennium, the Strokes have spent much of the time since their 2001 debut “Is This It” lowering the expectations set by that classically New York, Velvet Underground-influenced explosion of droning melodies, speed-fueled guitars and runaway subway train rhythms. “Room on Fire” (2003) and “First Impressions of Earth” (2006) were hardly dismal efforts, but neither expanded the basic formula the way the Velvets continually stretched the boundaries of their sound, and the wait for album number four has officially grown interminable as band members are torn by the constant distractions of various solo projects.

Now the group’s voice, primary songwriter and laidback if undeniable leader has given us his solo bow, a concise, eight-track, 40-minute set that takes its name from an Oscar Wilde essay (“Phrases and Philosophies for Use of the Young”) and which veers far and wide for the sort of stylistic diversity sorely missing in the Strokes. Unfortunately, the results only make a fan miss that band more.

Julian Casablancas’ delightfully laconic vocals remain as appealing as ever, and he still flaunts an unerring ear for hooks so casual and seemingly effortless you forget how infectious they are. These talents shine on the opening “Out of the Blue” and “Left & Right in the Dark,” as well as the dark but frenetic “River of Brake Lights.” But these suffer from the sterile computer rhythms; why use a drum machine when you have one of the greatest human rhythm machines in rock with Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti?

Elsewhere, though memorable melodies still abound, Casablancas sounds painfully out of his element–a New Yorker dressed head to toe in black leather stranded on a sunny beach. Witness the misguided lo-fi dance track “11th Dimension,” the awkward computer-orchestrated ballad “Glass” or the bizarre drunken blues/uptight freak-folk of “Ludlow St.” One wishes that producers Jason Lader and Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) would have provided a bit more guidance. But one wishes even more for the return of Casablancas’ old prep school mates.

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