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Stroke of luck

I’ve always liked the Strokes. Their urban, unwashed, boogie-woogie has charmed me when I’m running on low fuel.

india Updated: Jan 30, 2010 00:14 IST
Indrajit Hazra

I’ve always liked the Strokes. Their urban, unwashed, boogie-woogie has charmed me when I’m running on low fuel. The engine of the band, singer Julian Casablancas has come out with his first solo outpouring, Phrazes For The Young, and it’s exactly what it should be: a sideways treatment of New York rock’n’roll minus the heavy guitars of Strokes guitarman Albert Hammond Jr. At his best, Casablancas manages to mix his trademark lyrics and greasy spoon-cleaned-under-the-tap singing voice with a 80s New York feel where synth keys are still fearlessly pressed and the CBGB’s hasn’t closed under former NYC mayor Giuliani’s squeaky clean watch.

The cookie start in ‘Out of blue’ is a big city folksy number in which Casablancas daisy-chains along laconically: “Somewhere on the way/ my hopefulness turned to sadness/ Somewhere on the way/ my sadness turned to bitterness/ Somewhere on the way/ my bitterness turned to anger/ Somewhere on the way/ my anger turned to vengeance.” In the wrong hands, this could have turned into a nursery rhyme. Here, it’s like reading a line from the Old Testament while on your third Guinness.

But it’s in ‘Left & right in the dark’, that things lift off and we know Julian-bhai is taking us somewhere where he can’t take you on his day job duty with the Strokes. The frenetic energy of a sheer pop tune comes over. Shaking his hair at the Pet Shop Boys (Praise be upon them), he dances into ‘11th dimension’. Don’t forget the opening synth lines that allows all of us who slagged off the 80s when it was really the 80s to finally appreciate the decade. The slow gospel ‘4 chords of the Apocalypse’ is beautifully calm, reminding me that I must go to New York one day to pray in front of those great cathedrals of steel and glass. The heavy key press takes on the tone of an organ that in turn takes on the sound of a siren.

The bar room country sway of ‘Ludlow St’ takes us in yet another alley. Casablancas has the genuine talent not only capturing the warp, woof and growl of city life in his lyrics, but the music takes urban swagger and gives it a rootsy flavour.

‘River of brakelights’ breaks up the sound — the voice and the synth-driven music seem to be indulging in some sort of slam dancing competition. The caterpillaring of the lines ‘Getting the hang of it, getting the hang of it’ segueing into ‘Timing is everything, timing is everything’ sounds like the glorious soundtrack of an early 20th century silent German Expressionist movie about modern life. The album ends with the delicate ‘Glass’ and the swirling Human League-ish stomp of ‘Tourist’.

Phrazes For The Young is the sort of album that I dream of: having the experimental edginess of a Radiohead record and the pop sensibility of a Blondie EP. Listen to it. Casablancas has not only been brave in serving this bar roomful of sounds right on the rock mainstreet but he’s also been bang on in bringing us wonderful, wonderful city music.

Gosh, it’s Joss

It’s Soul Girl Joss Stone and her new album, Colour Me Free has fingerclicked its way into my lap. The British blonde with the best black voice — made apparent to most of us for the first time in her 2003 debut album, The Soul Sessions — starts with a shimmy in ‘Free me’. The mmm-quotient is raised in the piano tinkle-toed ‘Could have been you’. Stevie Wonderesque funk comes in to the room in ‘Parallel lines’ and the touch and go of the guitars do much to create a thicker smokescreen than Joss already has with her voice.

The retro feel of ‘Lady’ seems a little slippery, with Joss more keen on changing notes per bar than singing the rhythm and blues. Instead, the R&B thrust of ‘Big Ol’ Game’ is a trainmover of a song. It’s a rolling song that picks up as it moves down the slope.

The rest of the fare — the mike-being-gobbled-up ‘Incredible’, the backbeat and Quincy Jones bassline funk of ‘You got the love, and the slo-mo heartbreaker ‘I believe it to my soul’ (where the nodules on Rod Stewart’s vocal chords are borrowed) — is standard Joss Stone, and not heavy ear-perking stuff. Which still isn’t bad at all if you’re in a soulful mood.