Second time round, is the prospect of a solo album from Albert Hammond Jr more or less frightening? He may have been touring with The Strokes over the last couple of years, but where does his heart really belong: to Julian Casablancas et al or to centre stage?
After all, it’s 20 months since Yours To Keep and nearly 30 since First Impressions Of Earth. Two solo albums since the last Strokes effort is starting to look dangerously like a career move.
All of this makes it difficult to fully embrace ¿Cómo Te Llama? immediately, in much the same irrational, irritating but unavoidable way that you can’t help resenting Foo Fighters for not being Nirvana. Instead, you need to give it time, let it ferment gently and seep into your affections slowly. Before you know it, you’ll be more than ready to give it the credit it deserves.
Hammond alone is slicker than The Strokes en masse. He also experiments more with musical styles, never wanting to stay in one place for too long and never afraid to thrown a curveball and veer off into reggae (cf Borrowed Time and G Up, the album’s most danceable track) when you least expect it. The jury’s still out on whether or not this is a good thing. It’s not as idiosyncratic or driven as The Strokes, but then again, what is?
He’s certainly been listening to Neil Young when putting these thirteen tracks together. He fills out many of them with 70s supergroup-style guitar solos. Opening track Bargain of the Century is raw blues, Strokes-esque riffage slips into successor In My Room then, with Lisa, he retreats back to minimal, pared down rock roots of which The White Stripes would be proud. Later on, Rocket will plough the same trough as The Rolling Stones at their most raw.
By the middle of the album – particularly The Boss Americana and You Won’t Be Fooled By This – he’s letting The Strokes heritage shine through unfettered: neither track would be out of place on an album from the mother band.
While at times ¿Cómo Te Llama? might feel as though it’s fallen through a timewarp from the late 60s/early 70s, it’s not afraid to jump around within this, from raw garage rock to deeper, darker blues. Victory at Monterey is the sound of night falling on the summer of love with a warm, psychedelic glow and with its pained refrain of “I’m so sorry”, it’s also the track that’s closest in lyrical tone to The Strokes at their best.
Counter this with the beautifully trippy, lyric-less piano of Spooky Couch, courtesy of Sean Lennon, and you realise that this is the work of a supremely confident musician who’s so effortlessly clever he deserves to be slapped for it. But does Hammond have a real stroke of genius? Not quite, although at the last count the gentle garage-twee Miss Myrtle makes an admirable attempt, sounding both homemade and charming, a rough diamond it would be crime to scrub up.
When it’s nearly all over, in comes Feed Me Jack for a last hurrah: an almost Lemon Jelly-ish space rock lullaby over Hammond organs (surely an in-joke?), the near perfect closer to an album that has strived toward an impossible benchmark. It very nearly made it.