When the members of a band have released more solo albums than together as a whole, it's easy to start worrying about whether or not the group's hiatus is just that. Case in point, the Strokes. After a brilliant debut acclaimed by critics and fans alike, they released an adventurous sophomore effort that was slightly inferior, and then a sprawling, uneven hot mess. As if taking cue from falling flat so ceremoniously, the group decided to take a break and go their separate ways for a bit. Out of this came a couple impressive solo efforts from Albert Hammond, Jr. as well as projects from Nikolai Fraiture and Fabrizio Moretti (Nickel Eye and Little Joy, respectively), while the songwriter/vocalist Julian Casablancas laid relatively low. However, it couldn't have been long until he decided to try his own hand at it; it's all too easy to assume that the man at the helm of the immensely ambitious (though falling unfortunately short) First Impressions of Earth had quite a few varied ideas of his own stowed away just waiting for use, and boy, do we ever get them.
Even with all this in mind, Phrazes for the Young's opener Out of the Blue is fittingly titled, with wildly bleeping synths introducing a more familiar galloping yet subdued guitar with upbeat drums belied by Casablancas' fashionably alienated voice droning on about sadness turning into bitterness, and the like. The song is great - the devices are hackneyed but manipulated very well to produce quite a few outstanding melodies; overall it's damned close to a perfect song. Up next is Left & Right in the Dark, which features Police-echoing guitar (the underlying part is particularly reminiscent of Canary in a Coal Mine) layered with cheesy but effective synths. These two, paired with lead single 11th Dimension, seem to set the stage for a bouncy alternative dance album, but the record takes a sharp left turn here, and to Casablancas' credit, it works very, very well. 4 Chords of the Apocalypse recalls Chris Cornell's When I'm Down (or anything from Euphoria Morning, really) with a surprisingly capable croon and a great, bluesy guitar. This is where the slightly sad affectations to his vocals work best; when he sings "So be with anyone you want, it's alright with me," it's so convincing it truly feels like this was supposed to be a blues record.
The seamless transition of the hopping genres is made even more evident with the country-drenched Ludlow St., a tribute to bar hopping, and the inevitable drunkenness and hangover that follow. The cleverly placed keyboards and drum machine keep the song from floating out of place, as well as Casablancas' endlessly grounded voice.
The album slips slightly here; River of Brakelights is a startlingly aggressive tune that gets a bit too busy in places, with Glass overindulging a bit much in the grandiose chorus (though saved by a strong chorus and bridge). The momentum is quickly recovered with the closing Tourist, though; the track is incredibly effective, endlessly layered with new sounds as the song progresses and yet never sounding pretentious or overprocessed.
After the half brilliant, half disastrous affair that was First Impressions of Earth, Casablancas has re-applied his wide plethora of ideas once again, however with a great deal more vision. It's not perfect, but it has everything the former didn't, and even if we never do hear more from the Strokes as a whole, making do with their solo careers will be far more tolerable than anyone might have thought. Still though, if the musical growth everyone involved has shown is any indication, if we do get the new Strokes album we're all hoping for, it's gonna be a monster.