Albert Hammond, Jr.
Yours to Keep
pon the announcement of Albert Hammond Jr.’s solo disc a few months ago, Vegas oddsmakers positioned the line on the album’s critical consensus as follows:
3:2: “Pleasant pop music destined to be forgotten two weeks later.”
4:1: “Better than First Impressions of Earth.”
7:1: “Egregious misuse of talent.”
9:1: “Albert is the Strokes’ true genius.”
38:1: “Holy shit! This sounds like Faust!”
We know the drill by now: Julian for his personality, Fabrizio Moretti for his nifty handle, Nick Valensi for his hair, Albert for his pop sensibilities, and that other guy. Hammond has always repped Guided by Voices and Robert Pollard provides a good starting point for Yours to Keep—an album full of short, precise pop songs and spry arrangements.
What with the huge New York City boner critics get when discussing The Strokes, it’s easy to forget that Hammond grew up on the West Coast—and that his pops was a lounge-y, adult-contemporary tunesmith. Yours to Keep departs only slightly from Hammond’s work with The Strokes, but when it does it serves as a reminder of Hammond’s origins. Playing the song-title game reveals less big-city angst and plenty of SoCal shiny happy: “Cartoon Music for Super Heroes,” “Blue Skies,” “Bright Young Thing.”
I should be able to coast through this review with a tidy “Hammond’s breezy Cali vibe provides a nice contrast to the urban cool of the Strokes,” but the disappointing truth is that the closer Hammond remains to Stroke-dom, the better he fares. “Everyone Gets a Star,” “Hard to Live (In the City),” and, most notably, “Back to the 101” feature Hammond’s much-copied staccato chug and a familiar conversational vocal performance that suggests Hammond does more writing than the Strokes camp lets on. Hammond sounds loose, freed from First Impressions, sloppy, crammed mixes, his power trio getting their ya-ya’s out three minutes at a time.
Hammond is well-suited to this solo gig: he’s got a silky set of pipes and an easy way with melody that will simultaneously impress and never, ever, ever make anyone forget his day job. (Those of you eagerly anticipating America’s answer to Graham Coxon can uncork the champagne.) So, it’s no surprise that the more overtly summer pop soundtrackers mix unevenly. To his credit, Hammond sounds absolutely committed, and the songwriting chops are decent, but there’s absolutely zero gravitas to these tracks, their treble-heavy constructions blending into one long, chirping track. The acoustic-heavy “Blue Skies” is the most egregious offender, pacing about lazily in a saccharine dungeon, complete with horns and bells. Bob your head to “Call an Ambulance” and “Cartoon Music,” but expect little retention.
The musicianship on this album retains a professional, waxed sheen, and that’s part of the problem: Hammond sticks to the basics, employing pedestrian rock setups whether he’s punking along with gusto or putzing around on the beach. No one wanted to take a chance on some simple orchestration? Play around with recording techniques, ala idol Pollard? Hammond may be a huge GBV fan, but Yours to Keep suggests he chose Do the Collapse as a starting point. It’s a consistent, professional album containing little of the Strokes’ gristle and it ultimately sounds like a particularly well-produced pop-rock album with a shelf life of about two weeks. Those oddsmakers are professionals, you know…