Albert Hammond Jr – ‘AHJ’ Review

13 Oct

When Albert Hammond Jr reveals that ‘lately I just haven’t been myself’ on ‘AHJ’s closing track ‘Cooker Ship, he may be referring to his role in The Strokes’ most recent album, ‘Comedown Machine.’ That record found a great band in the grip of a distressing identity crisis. I suspect however that he’s referring to his tabloid friendly drugs meltdown (“I used to shoot ket and heroin for breakfast” blah blah blah). The subject of redemption drives Albert on this compact e.p, which serves to draw a line under both the lacklustre ‘Comedown Machine and his addiction. It does so with some success.

After a turbulent few years, both professionally and personally, ‘AHJ’ is the sound of a man going back to his roots. You can almost hear him turning back the clock at points here. These four songs bridge the gap between Albert’s early work with The Strokes, and the more upbeat, Beatle-esque material on his two solo albums. Opener ‘St. Justice’ sees Albert not only doing a fine impression of old-school Albert Hammond Jr, but also an equally fine impression of Nick Valensi and Nikolai Fraiture. Those metallic, dueling guitars intertwine with a melodic bass to create a pleasingly familiar sound. It’s a rather casual introduction to Albert’s first solo work in half a decade, but it does succeed in wiping the slate clean after the synth-pop experiments of ‘Comedown Machine.’

Over fifteen minutes or so Albert plays it safe in the best possible sense. So accurate is the ‘Strokes sound’ on ‘Rude Customer’, that the first time I heard it (after switching on my radio during the guitar solo) I genuinely wondered if it was a long-lost demo by the band. I had no idea it was a new Albert Hammond Jr number till I heard his voice. Whilst Albert proves he still knows how to get his guitar chiming just right, the close proximity in which Albert stays to his band’s sound also helps to highlight the obvious and unavoidable gulf in quality. Bluntly put, nothing on ‘AHJ’ holds a candle to the material on ‘Is This It’ or ‘Room On Fire’. Albert is a good songwriter but he isn’t yet a great songwriter. And while he can certainly hold a tune, he isn’t what you would describe as a particularly distinctive vocalist. In other words, Albert is more at home as the cool guitarist with mystique than the frontman.

But The Strokes have hardly been on top form recently, and with that in mind you have to consider ‘AHJ’ a victory – it’s certainly a more likeable effort than ‘Comedown Machine.’ And lets not forget that Albert has ventured out alone before. His 2006 debut ‘Yours To Keep’ is (all things considered) the best Strokes-related release this side of 2003. ‘AHJ’ suggests that given the room to stretch his legs out a bit more, Albert would have another fine full-length album in him.

Back to the final song on the e.p; when Albert sings ‘control is hard to find’, he could once again be singing about his drug addiction or his relationship with the band. Certainly it seems like the issue of control is one thing seriously holding the group back. ‘Angles’ and ‘Comedown Machine’ sounded like a group of individual talents failing to come together in a meaningful way, struggling to compromise and adapt. If Julian and co are intent on arguing and making second-rate records, Albert may well be advised to go it alone on a  more permanent basis. Grab control for himself. ‘AHJ’ shows that he’s got it in him.

7/10

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