The Jakarta Post
‘Francis Trouble’ by Albert Hammond Jr. (Albert Hammond Jr. /File)
On his fourth solo album, Albert Hammond Jr. serves up another dose of punchy power-pop, never straying too far from his recognized sound but remaining dependably melodic and energetic.
As the most prolific and consistent member of popular American rock band The Strokes, Hammond’s solo output remains the closest to that “classic” Strokes sound.
There is snappy guitar interplay, vocals that veer between cool ennui and throaty emoting, post-punk meets new-wave beats, and simple, but not simplistic melodies.
It’s all the elements that The Strokes have moved away from since they have lived in limbo for the past few years, with band members releasing solo records and main Strokes member Julian Casablancas seemingly having more fun with his manic experimental troupe The Voidz.
As such, Francis Trouble (the name’s an ode to his stillborn twin brother) works the same way as Hammond’s three previous full lengths (and one solid EP) do; it provides a welcome buffer for fans hopeful that The Strokes make a committed return some day.
While that may sound diminishing to Francis Trouble’s value, it isn’t. While it still doesn’t beat Hammond’s debut (2006’s Yours to Keep) as being the most delightfully catchy, it is the most immediate in his catalogue.
The songs are almost exclusively rockers, brimmed with forward-moving beats and scratchy overdriven guitars. This makes it easy to get into the songs even when the basic melodies or riffs don’t match that verocity.
The record starts off strong. The three opening tracks showcase just how integral Hammond’s guitars and sense of play were keys to The Strokes’ sound. Opener “DvsL” even borrows that classic early-2000s post-punk beat (itself borrowed from the past) found on songs like The Strokes’ “Last Night”, while “Far Away Truths” is characteristically Hammond, with stop-start guitars and cool little melodic interplay that add so much to the spirited momentum.
It also got a melody that builds and builds, bridging to the equally eventful “Muted Beatings”. An immediate intro with the sort of old video game-ish melodies that’s often found in the Strokes catalogue, the track moves onto a similar pace with “Truths” — zippy and always moving within its power-pop barriers with increasingly (and deceptively) complex drumming as it moves toward its finish.
Other tracks in similar vein include “SreaMER”, which shapes itself upon a retro-garage nuance (complete with woo-hoo backing harmonies) — Hammond’s distorted vocals speak-singing through various dynamics — from lackadaisical to pissy — atop hopping snare rolls.
“Harder, Harder, Harder” is 1970s Spy-movie rock with sharp staccato guitars and superbly interlocking drums that follow “Boob Job” from the previous album as the musician’s best album closer.
The less-rockier tracks are less immediate but rarely weak. “Stop and Go” has a playful indie-pop beat to match its high-up-the-neck guitar melodies and jangly strums.
Hammond’s vocals move from whisper to completely hushed, but don’t really latch on to obvious hooks. It isn’t the album’s strongest moment but a good break from the “rawk”.
Not dissimilar to it, “Strangers” paces with a confident beat and guitars that hover in and out with each other. It also has the kind of melodies that are passable (draped with some moments of “La la la’s”) but never really reaches any particular height.
Considering the consistency on which Hammond releases his record — relative to his bandmates — it’s clear that the musician has a lot of passion for writing and performing his music. This in itself should be applauded, even if his records may always be (unfairly?) judged against that of The Strokes.
There’s no denying the power of that band and the combination of the five people in it remains more impactful than any of its individual elements (even The Voidz). So without the burden of comparison, Francis Trouble is a cool power-pop record that may not shake anyone’s universe but is solid enough to stand on its own humbly-melodic feet.