A tourist brochure can show you photos, statistics and information, but they can never really capture the spirit, the allure and the love for a city.
For that, you need music, and every city should be contacting their resident equivalent of Julian Casablancas to immortalise their town in song. For his début solo album, The Strokes front-man has created an unabashed love letter to his home city of New York. It's a sign of genuine affection that his feelings are contagious.
Capturing the mood, the progression - both good and bad -, the night-life, the scenery which colours the important moments: heartbreak, self-realisation and hopefulness as well as the everyday fears of his life, this is an eight-song ode to life and love in the big apple.
For his part, Casablancas seems to have made an effort to portray a decidedly un-Strokesian style of sound in his album. While Albert Hammond Jnr purveyed the sense that any of his songs could happily reside on the next album of material from his day-job band, Casablancas has brought together a rich variety of sonic elements from which to draw many differing musical signatures. "Out of the Blue" is the closest to The Strokes, and likely the window through which to access the rest of the album. "11th Dimension" takes this template, tempering it with an electro-dance twist. Twittering hi-hats doing the samba with clapping snare drums as the maestro projects his all-too-familiar American drawl over the top.
The latter part of Phrases For the Young (we're throwing off the American English now) surrenders the album to a downbeat mood and slower pace. Leaving the subject matter to follow suit. "Four Chords of the Apocalypse" captures the moment of realisation in a crumbling relationship ("I hear it in your silence / When you don't speak / There is a quiet crying rage burning inside of you so deep / I'd give you anything, but I'd give you problems."). "Ludlow Street" laments the corruption of culture ("Faces are changing on Ludlow St. / Yuppies invading on Ludlow St. / Night life is raging on Ludlow St. / History's fading / And it's hard, to just move along."). "River of Brakelights" takes stock of the pace of life in city congestion ("We were born waiting in life / Grabbing the future by the eyes / Getting the hang of it, Getting the hang of it / Timing is everything, Timing is everything").
A quick scan of the album information reveals one of the major gripes most are likely to have with Phrases... though. Eight tracks with few falling south of the five-minute border leads one to naturally conclude that the pace will meander slightly. There are no self-aggrandising exercises in instrumental masturbation, there is no abuse of the chorus, no extended introductions and no tangential deviations from the standard song structure. The reason for the song's length then is simply that the man has a lot to say and his trademark drawl means he isn't exactly swift in his delivery, favouring the time to enunciate every syllable in at least three different notes.
In essence, Phrases for the Young does everything you'd wish for from a solo album. It deviates wildly from Casablancas' Strokes-style. It explores personal feelings and observations through an array of musical influences and above all, it paints a clear picture of the man behind the music. Its slothful pace may throw off some with repeated listens, but its heart never fades.
Better than a place-holder or stop-gap, this could be the best Strokes-related album since Is This It? A welcome blend of upbeat guitar-pop and contemplative requiem.