After the first three songs of Albert Hammond Jr.’s sophomore album passed through my eardrums, I was nagged by thoughts that these tracks reminded me of something. Being a music reviewer, that usually comes with the territory, finding common threads between wide varieties of music, but this was different. I just knew that it sounded like an album I really liked from last year. Of course, it turns out that the album I was connecting with was Albert Hammond’s first solo record, Yours to Keep. I had simply forgotten how beguiling Hammond’s power pop tunes were and found myself enchanted all over again with this new release, the second Hammond album between Strokes affairs.
This time around, Hammond employs the use of a full band, and the album definitely benefits from a fuller sound. Opener “Bargain of a Century” balances his trademark guitar jangles and power pop strums with a tinny piano. Hammond’s gravelly vocals, if at times without a whole lot of range, are not without their charms, making inflection and emphasis go a long way. “In My Room” and first single “GfC” continue the bouncy trends set forth in Yours to Keep, proving Hammond to be more of a consistent performer than his Strokes counterparts. “Lisa” is the first track that really caught my attention as something different from the norm. A ratatating drum machine kicks off the song, which then goes into reggae or ska-like rhythms before a sweeping chorus that adds melodramatic strings. With “Lisa,” Hammond proves he’s nothing if not ambitious, and he ends up pulling off one of the better-written songs in his career.
“The Boss Americana” combines Hammond’s long time love of the indie rock sensibilities of Guided By Voices with a bit of late ’70s and early ’80s pop-rock radio fare such as the Knack and Greg Kihn. Think “Jeopardy” or Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone” meeting disco and you’ll end up with “Victory at Monterey.” Hammond gets even more ambitious with “Spooky Couch,” a seven-minute instrumental, half inspired by ’50s guitar heroes such as Santo & Johnny, with the other half deeply rooted in more modern melodic indie rock. The track goes on a bit too long, but you can’t fault the guy for trying. Hammond does, however, get back on track with “Borrowed Time,” a Clash meets Elvis Costello disco reggae track.
Things are decidedly sunnier with later tracks such as “G Up.” One can’t help in listening to the world music influence in the guitars that there’s more than a little resemblance to Vampire Weekend and the recent spate of bands in their wake. “Miss Myrtle” also has some of that world music influence with a bit of island keyboard and guitars resembling simple ukulele tracks. And, aside from “Lisa,” “Borrowed Time” and “The Boss Americana,” there’s another gem at the end of the album in the lengthily titled, “Feed Me Jack or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Peter Sellers.” Like the aforementioned titles, this song finds the perfect balance between beat, harmony, vocal performance and rhythm. I have no idea what he’s hinting at with the title, other than the obvious Dr. Strangelove reference, but that might be the chore for a different time.
I doubt Albert Hammond Jr. will ever be as big a superstar as his band is. After all, could you imagine Shia LeBoeuf in an Albert Hammond Jr. t-shirt in Transformers 2? No, the Strokes are a brand name and Hammond merely a cog in that machine, which may be the reason I’ve never been a big Strokes fan. But, I AM a big Hammond fan. Yours to Keep and now the possibly purposefully misspelled ¿Como te Llama? are two albums that will remain in regular rotation thanks to their upbeat sensibilities and catchy harmonies. And sure, I did realize in listening to the album again that there’s more than a nagging resemblance to Spoon, but there are far worse bands to sound like, don’t you think?
Spoon – Kill the Moonlight
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros – Global A Go-Go
The Knack – Get the Knack