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ALBERT HAMMOND JR.
Yours to Keep
Solo albums. Those two words when grouped together produce shudders and dread throughout the bones of rock fans built of the hardiest stock. And with good reason.
More often than not, solo albums are no more than excuses by slighted musicians to unleash all their accumulated frustrations at having their own musical ideas suppressed at the hands of their egomaniacal bandmates. And instead of properly editing all that pent-up creativity, the results usually rush out in a torrent of self indulgence.
While that's the rule, thankfully Jarvis Cocker - vocalist for Britpop rockers Pulp, and Albert Hammond Jr. - one of the two guitarists for the Strokes - demonstrate there are exceptions.
Like Ray Davies, David Bowie and Morrissey, Cocker has always been an identifiably British cultural commentator as the frontman for Pulp with a penchant for writing wry, sardonic pop songs with plenty of sexual overtones and undertones. On his solo debut following the band's demise, some of the rocking bluster of Pulp gives way to balladry and introspection, but Cocker's sophisticated, theatrical mastery of the pop song remains the key.
Cocker is a songwriter and performer who knows exactly what makes a song tick. Even the dubiously titled "From Auschwitz to Ipswich" - a look at looming world terrorism - and "Disney Time" - a somewhat creepy juxtaposition of pornography and children's movies - work as both reflective pieces of work and hard hitting tunes. With the success of Jarvis, it raises the question of why Cocker didn't strike out on the solo path long ago.
ON YOURS To Keep, Albert Hammond Jr. offers a gentler, kinder version of the Strokes. While songs like the throbbing "In Transit" and "101" possess that trademark careening guitar sound which has come to be identified with the New York gritty rockers, they also contain lighter choruses than any Strokes song would dare to offer.
Nodding as much to Southern California rock and to his father - 70s singer/songwriter Albert Hammond, whose hits include "It Never Rains in Southern California" - as to the CBGB heroes of his parent band, Hammond Jr. stresses the overlooked pop elements that exist in the Strokes material, but are often overpowered by Julian Casablancas' raw delivery.
Tastefully placed keyboards and handclaps embellish "Cartoon Music for Superheroes" and "Bright Young Thing" giving them a noticeable 70s Beach Boys vibe. Not afraid to sound vulnerable, Hammond Jr. goes really solo on the acoustic "Blue Skies", not an Allman Brothers cover, but a gorgeous, bittersweet waltz-timed ballad.
Guests include Casablancas, Sean Lennon, and Ben Kweller, but Hammond Jr. acquits himself well on vocals and a myriad of instruments.
Allgedly prompted by the rejection of his material for inclusion in Strokes albums, Yours To Keep is a refreshing, unjaded peek into the mind of a rhythm guitarist who could be a whole lot more. Let's hope his bandmates include him in the mix on their next album.