You know how when you first heard The Strokes’ ’12:51′ you thought it was too short? Well, it turns out it wasn’t. The proof is here on Julian Casablancas’ debut solo album, in the form of 8 seemingly endless tracks. The Strokes’ first comeback single left us hankering for more; so lean there was no time to get bored of that playful keyboard-sounding guitar riff; ‘Phrazes for The Young’ is the band’s creative figurehead cross-breeding the ever drawn-out genre of country and western with 80s electronics, and there’s plenty of time to get fidgety throughout.

So much a gang, it’s easy to forget that The Strokes are very much Julian’s band, or at least it was until one by one his band mates indulged their plainly dull side projects. Nickel Eye, Little Joy, Albert Hammond Jnr’s solo work; they all finally convinced us that the best looking one – the instrument-less one – really is the brains of the whole operation. But ‘Phrazes of the Young’ could easily knock our confidence in that theory once again, due to tracks like the opening ‘Out of The Blue’. A country railroad song that speaks, Johnny Cash-like, of “going to hell in my leather jacket”, it bounds along relentlessly. Julian purrs his ever-sexy drawl, but it’s too little to pull focus from how the track’s rigid, single dimension makes it seem far longer than its naturally yawnsome length of 4 and a half minutes.

Even more likely to be found chewing hay and dressed in plaid is ‘Ludlow St.’ with its banjo (!) solo. It clops further, this time over the 5-minute mark, and while its waltzing sway is merry enough, you can’t help but think that it’s more suited to Bright Eyes’ cutting room floor.

‘4 Chords of The Apocalypse’ begins a twirly waltz also, and veers a little too close to Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne’s Christmas weepy ‘Changes’ for forgiveness, until, that is, it erupts into the kind of classic soul song that has X Factor contestants dropping to their knees, √† la Danni Minouge at boot camp. Casablancas releases his inner Lionel Richie and proves once again that behind the mumbles is a throaty voice as big as it is cool.

What we’re really after though, is ’11th Dimension’, which sounds like it could slip into New Order’s ‘Regret’ at any moment. Because when JC isn’t playing cowboy he’s picking up from where ‘First Impressions of Earth’ left off, toying with synthesizers and winding melodies. This is what he should have been concentrating on, and is no doubt how the urgent processed drums of ‘River of Breaklights’ were conceived, as well as ‘Left & Right in the Dark’, which is almost Balearic in its verse and brilliantly camp in its pop chorus.

Nothing is bad here per se – and everything is far more interesting than Albert Hammond Jnr’s solo stabs at greatness – it’s just that nothing is instantly excitable either. Even ‘Juicebox’ had that I-need-to-hear-that-again factor. Like The Beatles, The Strokes have always seemed brilliant together and far less impressive when alone. Ultimately, they still do.

By Stuart Stubbs

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