Casablancas is a musical messiah: a man that crafted one of the greatest debut LPs of all time – 2001’s ‘Is This It?’ – an aural bible that aspiring rock gods have been fawning over and pilfering from ever since. As history teaches us though, societies routinely turn on their saviours, and certain sections of the music press have been crucifying Casablancas over every release since that astronomical first album.
‘Tyranny’ is JC’s debut with new band The Voidz, and marks a thrilling New Testament in his canon. It’s a weirdly wonderful mesh of awkward time signatures, unconventional song structures and, in general, unbridled madness. It succeeds because, in trying to prioritise mood over melody, style over substance and, to quote Casablancas himself, “vanity over wisdom”, the LP ends up ensnaring all of those former attributes.
The album’s crowning glory is the 11-minute genre-straddling epic, and lead single, ‘Human Sadness’, the creative pinnacle of Casablancas’s non-Strokes career to date. Musically, thematically, stylistically: it’s ‘A Day In The Life’ / ‘Band On The Run’ for The Modern Age.
‘Tyranny’’s chief thematic concern is the way that technology’s ugly shadow is gradually encroaching on all aspects of our lives, and being used as a tactic for Orwellian manipulation. “Come here, shut down and tune in tonight / Learn the words that they teach you without you realising it / Come here sit down and watch some TV…” he croons at one point, in what is his de-facto vocal register on ‘Tyranny’ – a vocoder-warped, fuzz-drenched falsetto.
Contempt for modern technology is mirrored and reflected in Shawn Everett’s scuzzy production too – sounding like it was mastered using ZX Spectrum-era technology. After several repeat listens, don’t be surprised if you begin to imagine yourself as the protagonist in a computer game.
‘Tyranny’ bemoans other corrupting influences, too. The terrible, soul-destroying power of money is a motif constantly weaved through the tracks: “Tomorrow is laughing, money breeds tyranny,” our man laments on ‘Xerox’, while on the intro to ‘Human Sadness’ you hear an ominous warning: “Put money in my hand / And I will do the things you want me to.” The shadow of Julian’s recently deceased father also haunts the soundscapes, notably on the later verses of the lead single: “All the time he waits for me / And now we talk from time to time.”
Having been pigeonholed for so long it’s little wonder Casablancas is going all out to defy and subvert expectations. There’s a great deal of self-reflection on this LP, and at one point during the existential angst of ‘Human Sadness’ he shows disdain for his past: “I hear echoes of my old self / This is not the way to be / All at once I lost my way.”
Still though, the eagled-eared listener will hear undertones of his previous work amidst the madness: ‘Johan Von Bronx’ has echoes of 2013’s ‘Happy Ending’, and the manic, tortured outro to ‘Nintendo Blood’ has whispers of 2011’s ‘Machu Picchu’.
Largely though, this is the sound of Casablancas giving a middle-fingered salute to his past.
Words: Benji Taylor
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