I never understood the hype around The Strokes. I heard a single or two and thought they were OK. Nowhere near the rock genre redefining wunderkinds that so many music journalists were so quick to anoint them. Plus, the band always seemed so obsessed with their image and creating their own myth and legend, which is always a quick way to turn me off a band.
Thank Christ I never followed the band closely enough to know the names of any members. Because if I knew Albert Hammond Jr’s day job is playing guitar for The Strokes, I would have dismissed his solo music without ever hearing a note. Luckily, I had no idea who he was when I stumbled across a video for Losing Touch online and gave it a look. Straight away, that song made me know I needed to hear is latest, Momentary Masters.
Born Slippy reaffirms that this is a dude from The Stokes, but not in a bad way. The jangled, angular guitars of the intro and verses are reminiscent of The Strokes, without being beholden to them. But Hammond’s vocals add a lot more melodic variation than anything his main band ever could. And as the chorus arrives, so does a much more flighty, pretty approach to guitar.
A solo album, by a guitarist, Hammond could be forgiven for making a guitar driven, guitar dominated record. But with its bass heavy riffage and driving drums, he lets his guitar be relegated to filling in space in the background on Power Hungry. He also pushes his vocals from high, ethereal meanderings to faux-baritone breakdowns.
Hammond gets his Arctic Monkeys on with Caught By My Shadow while Losing Touch straight away justifies why it made me listen to Momentary Masters. On a record that’s already been pretty great up to this point, Losing Touch immediately takes it to a new level. It’s quiet, introspective verses, its soaring chorus. It takes a tried and tested formula and finds its own groove within it.
A companion piece to Losing Touch, Don’t Think Twice takes a riff rocked out on bass and guitar on the previous song, and pretties it up with ukulele / mandolin feel, while building an entirely new song around it. Straight up, stripped back rock meets 80s synths on Razors Edge and the union pays off with one of the best songs on the album.
I know Hammond has released other solo material, so I’m sure I’m saying nothing new, but I think Momentary Masters will work for fans of The Strokes and non-fans alike. I’m clearly in the on-fan camp, but I really dig everything here. And I dig it while recognising the influence of The Strokes is evident at almost every moment. With Momentary Masters, Albert Hammond Jr acknowledges his more famous, high profile work, while embracing his freedom to explore something different when cut loose from that more famous, high profile work.