So what happened to Julian Casablancas, or has he always been really weird? I guess there’s always been an element of weirdness to the guy, even back when he was the king of New York cool. That weirdness still felt slick and tough, that is until 2006 with The Strokes’ First Impressions of Earth. While still being at least half of a solid record, there were moments of gluttonous indulgence on Casablancas’ part. By the last third of the record you’d had enough, with “Evening Sun” being the best thing about the end of that album. His first solo album, 2009s Phrazes for the Young, while still dabbling in some off-kilter songs still had enough pop finesse and cool and angular guitar to make it seem like our pal Julian may have a future after The Strokes. After two so-so Strokes reunion albums Casablancas returns again, this time trading in The Strokes for The Voidz. The result is Tyranny, which ends up being more Mr. Bungle than Television.
I would never get down on an artist for stretching their creative legs. I applaud the need to step out of their comfort zone and see what else is out there besides the safety of sameness. Even if the result is awkward or just plain weird(see Kevin Barnes for both), at least the desire to grow and explore is there. But Julian Casablancas’ newest creation is just completely out there. There’s not really a sense of busting through boundaries more than a sense of someone who’s been creatively penned up for too long and allowed every creative whim spew out onto this record with no real direction or purpose. “Take Me in Your Army” for example, the opening track on Tyranny starts out promising. It sounds like The Motels running through The Strokes filter. Casablancas sounds robotic and distant, but it fits the vibe of the song well. Okay, this might turn out after all. Towards the end it even hints at Wire a bit and their art punk palate. Then “Crunch Punch” comes in like a radio signal from some alternate universe where androids attempt to recreate the sounds they heard coming from WFMU. Still though, interesting stuff. “M.utually A.ssured D.estruction” sounds like it was recorded in a giant tin can with dirty tape heads. It’s just kind of annoying. “Human Sadness” is the longest song on the album, coming in at nearly 11 minutes and it’s the best track by far. I think this song does right with what’s going on in Casablancas’ head. It’s part lilting ballad, part art rock, and part freakout noise fest, all meshed perfectly in a lo fi-ish production. By far the best thing he’s done since “Reptilia”.
From this point things just get kinda bad. From B-52s-like oddities that turn into Ministry dirges(“Where No Eagles Fly”), to I’m not sure what(“Xerox”). “Dare I Care” almost becomes something, until Casablancas starts singing. “Nintendo Blood” is synthy and cool, but can’t erase what’s already happened. The album ends with the David Lynch-like weirdness of “Off To War…” Overall, this album comes off as something created by someone with too much to say and not enough time to say it, so the record comes across as a million voices all screaming something different for an hour straight.
I still believe in Julian Casablancas. I think he’s got a few more great albums in him. He just needs to wake up his internal editor, or hire an external one.