Albert Hammond Jr ‘Momentary Masters’ – Review

4 Aug

For as long as The Strokes have been inconsistent, Albert Hammond Jr has been consistent. Dependable. Always guaranteed to produce, or at the very least say, something thoughtful, colourful and convincing. In 2006 The Strokes put out the bumpy ‘First Impressions of Earth’ whilst Albert released the power pop masterpiece ‘Yours to Keep’ (still the best solo album from any member of the band). More recently in 2013 The Strokes put out the deflating ‘Comedown Machine’ and Albert released the delightfully uplifting ‘AHJ’.

In the years between ‘First Impressions…’ And ‘Comedown Machine’, as the rest of the band squabbled and told tales to the media, Albert could be relied upon to give honest insights about current relations, interesting anecdotes whenever an album anniversary came about, or gracious thanks when honours and awards were handed out. On the rare occasions the band have performed live, Albert has always been the one holding things together. Julian and Nick may look disheveled and barely bothered but Albert’s enthusiasm has kept the band ticking over.

‘Dependable’ is not where he has been at in his personal life – not until recently at least. It seems almost comical that in 2015, post spinal tap and post Amy Winehouse, rock stars can still fall victim to excess and addiction. But Albert Hammond Jr did. As he puts it, he was a walking, talking cliche. The opening track on ‘Momentary Masters’, ‘Born Slippy’, picks up where last year’s ‘AHJ’ left off, by drawing a line under that whole period of his life. ‘Sometimes the sun goes behind the clouds, you forget the warmth that could be found.’ It may not be a particularly original metaphor but here, as the opening line, it feels like an apt one. ‘Momentary Masters’ is a bright and optimistic album that moves Albert out of any shadows through its exuberance and sheer enthusiasm.

‘Now that we’re not perfect we have to be good.’ This is one of several lyrics on the album that could be about The Strokes. From the title down, Albert is telling us that the band are no longer the unbeatable force they once were. There was a time when everything they touched turned to gold but as anyone who heard ‘Comedown Machine’ will attest, that isn’t the case anymore. Fittingly, ‘Momentary Masters’ is indeed good and not perfect. Albert has scaled back on the wide ranging ambition of his first two albums, instead dialling in on the airtight groves and lite-funk that has always been at the heart of his guitar playing. It’s inherently a more modest and low key release than anything he’s worked on before but that works in his favour. By playing to such a narrow framework Albert is able to quietly push and pull at the edges of his comfort zone with out fear of any unmitigated disasters. By doing what he knows best, Albert essentially ensures that nothing could possibly go wrong. And it doesn’t.

There are only nine original songs, plus a better than expected cover of Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’, and the longest of those tracks is four minutes. It’s the kind of record that you could happily listen to twice in a row (what a contrast with Julian Casablancas’ last album) as it breezes by, all hooks and choruses and not an ounce of fat. The production is scrappy, and not particularly flattering to Albert’s rather flat vocals, but it suits the punky simplicity of songs like ‘Losing Touch’ and ‘Razor’s Edge’.

The ‘Momentary Masters’ alluded to in the album’s title could well be The Strokes but it could equally be any of us. We all have a fleeting moment in the sun and not everyone is good at dealing with that intense scrutiny. ‘You and I got burned in paradise’ he sings on ‘Caught by my Shadow’, which adds to the sense that Albert’s time in the spotlight was detrimental to his well being. But statements like this are offset by a general sense of renewal and optimism, captured in the catchy hooks and sunny melodies. Albert was burned but he’s getting over it, ironically with the help of the biggest drug of all, the thing that got him hooked to begin with – rock n roll.

7/10

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