Albert Hammond Jr. uses “Melodies on Hiatus” to reveal that it was never just about skinny jeans, a love of 70s NYC garage-rock, and Julian Casablancas’ songs that conspired to create his success. Five albums into his solo career, Hammond Jr. has turned himself into one of the most important singer-songwriters of his generation.
Who could have foreseen this happening? Albert Hammond’s records sound most like The Strokes of any of the members of the quintet, and I can’t quite get over that fact. While Julian Casablancas has veered toward new-wave experimentation and the other band members have been content to put out respectable, albeit forgettable records, Hammond sounds like a man who owes his life to classic guitar-based songs.
“Melodies on Hiatus,” released through Red Bull Records, as the title might suggest, is the record least obsessed with maintaining the facade of cool NYC rocker. Hammond’s older now, a father, and he has plenty of worries on his mind. In fact, many of the songs end up sounding like drunken confessions made to an old friend. Yes, this is time to reminisce, but never without delivering a solid hook. He gets a lot of help from poet Simon Wilcox, the main lyricist for “Melodies on Hiatus.”
Albert Hammond Jr.’s new-found sense of purpose
“100-99,” the lead single featuring GoldLink, is an indie-pop melancholy-drenched look at the past. It sounds like it could have easily been sped up and fitted onto a new record by Hammond’s famous group. “Downtown Fred” and “Thoughtful Distress” are also built around 80s retro-pop but come closest to providing new tales about grimy New York streets.
The rest of the action happens in the songwriter’s mind, one that is often plagued by doubts, such as on the tense “I’d Never Leave,” the yacht-rock of “I Got You,” or the new-wave-ish “Old Man.”
Besides, there’s plenty to dig into here. “Melodies on Hiatus” is a 19-song collection. It’s a double album. Still, this may be irrelevant in the digital age. Today the name of the game is producing content and lots of it. From that point of view, Hammond Jr. understands how playlist-chasing works.
But Hammond can’t entirely escape his legacy, nor should he want to. The participation of Arctic Monkeys’ drummer Matt Helders and Billy Idol’s guitarist Steve Stevens is a testament to just how surprisingly well The Strokes’ reputation has endured. The man who once owed his living to playing choppy power chords on a Fender, and rendering most 1990s music genres obsolete, is something of a legend. Each new solo record only seems to add to it.
Who is this album made for? Fans of The Strokes who, likely, also liked his previous record, “Francis Trouble.” Although unlikely, Albert Hammond Jr. has practically crafted a parallel universe for the quintet’s music, one in which “First Impressions of Earth” never existed, and Hammond was allowed to write all of the band’s future albums. In hindsight, it’s not a scenario that fans of the band would greatly oppose.