julian-casablancas

What can you say now about Julian Casablancas, the ice-cool frontman of the band who, over ten years ago, were arguably the coolest group in existence? Over the succeeding decade it has become more and more difficult to get excited about any release by The Strokes, or any of their members, and given the solo form of Casablancas thus far, it’s difficult to approach this new album with any sense of relish or excitement.

But you can’t decry Casablancas for trying to be original. And in ‘Tyranny’, you get the feeling that he has tried very hard indeed to be just that – in fact to a perversely distorted degree. There is a cacophonous feel to this record; not in a manically energetic, entertainingly chaotic way, but in a confusing, disjointed and intensely frustrating way.

It’s very difficult, for example, to grasp what the band were aiming for with ‘Dare I Care’’s snippets of middle-eastern woodwind and fuzzy random vocals. ‘Father Electricity’ is so fleeting and incoherent, it’s almost impossible to grasp. And, typically of the album, there might be perhaps fifteen hopeful seconds, somewhere mid-song, of a decent-sounding refrain, before it flies off in several (terrible) directions at once. It’s as if Casablancas, with destructive ill-will, has petulantly forced his record collection through a blender, and stomped all over the resultant sludge. There are brief segments of hope and respite; the eleven-minute ‘Human Sadness’, with its sweeping strings, pervading melancholy and a mid-section, which sounds strikingly reminiscent of the Blur classic ‘Sing’, is a genuine highlight.

But by the honkingly awful, bloated slab of cacophonous self-indulgence that is ‘Zerox’, all patience, interest and hope is truly gone. And towards the very end of the album, the listening experience becomes nothing short of torturous. Did nobody, at any stage of the recording process, tell the chief songwriter that ‘Nintendo Blood’ just does not need to be six minutes long? The record as a whole feels like a sonic representation of a tortured and unstable mind, or a toddler orchestra let loose in a rehearsal lock-up.

You have to be a genuinely exceptional artist to escape the quicksand pit of diminishing returns; you also need to be capable of reinvention, of progression, and of embracing the new. In ‘Tyranny’, Casablancas has comprehensively proven that he is none of these things. Nobody expects nor wants another ‘Is This It’ – a record truly of its time, unrepeatable and enshrined in its moment and its era. That the Strokes-like ‘Johan Von Bronx’ is this record’s high point is testament to the notion that outside of that narrow, decade-old vision, Julian Casablancas is hopelessly lost.

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