Monday, September 1, 2008

The Revisionist: Albert Hammond Jr.

The Revisionist is a new feature on Stark, allowing our writers to offer a new opinion on a recent record that may not have graced our attention upon its original release. Think of it as our chance to play catch up.

Albert Hammond Jr: ¿Cómo Te Llama?

"Inside me there's a sad machine that wants to stop moving," sings Albert Hammond Jr. on "Gfc", the lead single from Hammond's recent ¿Cómo Te Llama?, released in July via RCA. It's a telling lyric, considering Hammond has largely been the lone representative of The Strokes in the public eye since the band's First Impressions of Earth in 2006. In the last two years, Hammond has released his debut solo LP (2007's Yours To Keep), quickly released its follow up, and has opened for everyone from Incubus to Coldplay. In that same time period, Julian Casablancas did a Gap commercial and Fabrizio Moretti broke up with Drew Barrymore. So you can see why Hammond seems drained. Luckily, his music doesn't suffer from the same fatigue.

Lattanzi, Hammond, Romano, Eskanazi have but one question: "What's your name?"

There's an odd sense of half-assed urgency present on the album, but that trait helps play to its appeal. Hammond and his band of cohorts -- drummer Matt Romano, guitarist Marc Philippe Eskenazi and bass player Josh Lattanzi -- are four men confidently playing simple music, but you get the feeling that they never really believe in the songs themselves. "Bargain of the Century", "In My Room", and "Lisa" combine for a sluggish one-two-three punch out of the gate. They're pleasant displays in lo-fi craftsmanship, but they simply trot along, anonymously. The same pattern continues through the next ten songs.

Yet the more time spent with ¿Cómo Te Llama? erases many of its shortcomings. The aformentioned three songs that open the album emerge with time as three of the strongest, most tuneful tracks. "Bargain" and "In My Room" contain vintage Is This It Strokes moments, while the chorus to "Lisa" (...can we call it a chorus?) is a gloriously subtle, lilting melody. "The Boss Americana" and "Rocket" are two more that appear as one-and-done cast-offs, but with patience, their hooks become obvious and wonderful. Even a song as seemingly dull as "Victory at Monterey", which initially seems like an awful stab at Franz Ferdinand, comes off as haunting and complex with repeated listens.

Hammond described his songwriting process this time around as using placeholder lyrics on top of melodies, with real words coming later. "Lyrically, I tried to have the words flow out more freely and not try to write one song but many. I would just sing and sing and then arrange the words afterwards.” It's a glaring technique. A large portion of the lyrics feel like nonsense, intended as such as long as they don't jeopardize the melody at hand. From "The Boss Americana": "Oh can't you stay on my face/these stains you can't see/now have you gone/for a bit/I know you're not the same/It's hard for me to blame." And that's among the stuff you might possibly be able to interpret.

So, ¿Cómo Te Llama? is uneven. It's by no means a great album, but one must certainly give Hammond and his band credit for writing a handful of more-than-decent indie rock songs. But do they mean well? Hammond sounds bored singing most of his material, and the rest of the band plays as if they're in a hurry to finish each song. Hammond showed far greater promise as a solo artist on Yours To Keep, whereas this time, he's largely tentative, if not lazy. My advice? Al, take some time to re-hone your craft, and next time you'll come out swinging. In the interim, feel free to make a new Strokes record.

- Andrew Daniels

No comments: