Album Review: Albert Hammond, Jr. – ¿Cómo Te Llama?

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When the major song writing force behind one of the United State’s more notorious bands goes out on their own, it’s always a gamble as to whether or not it will end up being worth it. For some aspiring soloists looking to spread their wings, it fails miserably, but for others it can be a nice break from the daily grind, and in a few rare cases actually turn into it’s own entity altogether, overshadowing the previous work. For Albert Hammond, Jr., the guitarist from The Strokes, his solo efforts have resulted in mixed results that are by no means failures, but are also not anything ground breaking.

Back in 2006, Mr. Hammond picked up a few new band mates. Matt Romano (drums), Marc Philippe Eskenazi (guitars/keyboards) and Josh Lattanzi (bass) all helped release Yours To Keep, and while it was obvious where he had just come from musically, the tracks still slightly felt like possible Strokes b-sides. His latest LP ¿Cómo Te Llama? may be history repeating itself. Opening the record, “Bargain of the Century” sounds exactly like a Strokes b-side, including the signature speedy strumming pattern and simple chord exchange that is all over the new record. Interestingly enough, however, this track is mostly instrumental with a country twang following the little vocals that do appear.

“Lisa” is the first track on the album to slow things down a bit. Carried by a slight island fever, this light heartiness straddles a chorus of distorted guitars and melancholy lyrics that reveal a nineties alt rock ballad side. “GFC” ends up being the first song that sounds like a possible hit for Hammond, Jr., which might explain why it’s the first single off the album. By slowing down the upstrokes with a By The Way sounding introduction, the song turns out to be very soothing. The lyrics on this one are well written, putting a highlight on this track.

Once you get into the meat of record, the songs turn downward again. “The Boss Americana” attempts to be catchy with a familiar formula that only gets tiring, as nothing seems to stand out. Some different experimentation comes with “Victory At Monterey”. With a spooky introduction that brings in the first example of broadened song writing, the track is another plus for the record, relying on a strong base line that leaves the guitars as background noise more or less.  “Spooky Couch” is by far the most original and grabbing moment for this record. Featuring an appearance by Sean Lennon on piano, it’s a soft guitar ballad that carries a slight Spanish influence at first. The conclusion of the song builds into a wonderfully arranged, strings-enhanced finish that serves as an oasis to this dessert. After this, however, the album falls back into it’s usual self. “Miss Myrtle” takes on a much poppier tone feeding right into the same old chorus technique we have heard on every piece of music that Albert has written. To his credit however, it’s what sets him apart as a musician.

The album ends on what starts out as a stronger note with “Feed Me Jack Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Peter Sellers”. Opening with pianos and simple vocals, this is another track that helps set Hammond, Jr. apart from his previous work. The songs’ false ending taps back into a nineties alternative structure, then loops into the real finish that leaves nothing to be missed.

In the end, ¿Cómo Te Llama? turns out to be hit or miss, with most of the tracks sounding as if he didn’t reach very far outside of his musical range. One thing that is consistent here is Hammond Jr’s strong ability to write a good rhythm guitar part, which is all the record seems to be. Though, an album of only good rhythm guitars only makes it feel bland. How unfortunate, considering this project is one of the few times he gets to play lead guitar for the band. With that in mind, if he wants to keep this solo gig up, he has some growing to do.

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¿Cómo Te Llama?