Album review: ‘AHJ’ by Albert Hammond Jr.
Songs to Download: “Rude Customer,” “Strange Tidings”
For Fans Of: The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines
The last time Albert Hammond, Jr. released a solo album, The Strokes were still the face of New York City rock ’n’ roll and Hammond was still the guy from The Strokes with the crazy hair. He was reckless, edgy and lovable in that kind of obnoxious way that only New Yorkers can pull off. Basically, he was everything that you could ask for from a rock star, with more than enough talent and stage presence to back it up. He was the guy who people like me cited to counter members of my parents’ generation who insisted that rock and roll just wasn’t what it used to be.
That was 2008. Today, Hammond is still irrefutably cool but in more of a fun uncle way than a rock god way. Following in the footsteps of his bandmate from The Strokes, Julian Casablancas, Hammond has ditched his demons and gotten his life together, even going so far as cutting his iconic afro. Playing on “The Late Show With David Letterman” for the first time as a solo artist last week, Hammond looked clean-cut, mature and healthy. Still, I found myself feeling guilty, failing to suppress my longing for the 24/7 rock star of days past.
By almost any standards, Hammond’s latest EP, appropriately titled “AHJ,” is a great set of songs. The choruses are filled with beautiful nostalgia, and Hammond’s guitar work is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The lyrics aren’t quite poetry, but they are certainly better than anything on Miley Cyrus’ new record. The trouble is, it is almost impossible to listen to “AHJ” and not compare it to Hammond’s first two solo records, and under that lens, the EP falls far short of expectations.
On those first two LPs, Hammond eagerly proved to the world that he could succeed independent of the Strokes. On “AHJ,” it feels more like he is desperately trying to prove to himself that he can succeed without drugs. The four songs feel formulaic and one-dimensional when compared to the spontaneous, genre-branching sound of his earlier solo work. Hammond hides his unique voice as a songwriter in the shadow of The Strokes’ legacy by emulating the gritty, melodic tone of “Is This It” and “Room on Fire.”
Hammond’s latest may not bring much new to the table, but an EP could suffer far worse fates than sounding too much like early The Strokes albums. On “Rude Customer,” tumultuous riffs sandwich a clean, consonant chorus in a catchy transition reminiscent of songs like “Alone, Together” and “NYC Cops.” Lead single “St. Justice” gets off to a shaky start with a predictable major chord arpeggiation that repeats for a little too long but eventually breaks into a deeply melodic vocal melody that falls lightly into the slowly descending guitar chords.
While “AHJ” lacks the creativity and boldness of Hammond’s previous solo records, it succeeded in reminding me why I fell in love with The Strokes in the first place, and that is definitely worth something.