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Albert Hammond Jr. - Francis Trouble (Album Review)

Friday, 16 March 2018 Written by Helen Payne

Photo: Autumn de Wilde

“What the music says may be serious, but as a medium it should not be questioned, analyzed or taken too seriously.”

Albert Hammond Jr. is discussing his new record and its inspiration: his stillborn twin brother, Francis. Although the Strokes guitarist has long known about Francis, it wasn’t until the age of 36 that he discovered that a small remnant of his twin, a fingernail, had remained in his mother’s womb and was born alongside him in 1979.

The revelation spurred a process of self-discovery, an exploration of his identity, and a change in the way Hammond Jr. writes. On ‘Francis Trouble’, though, his new contemplative approach hasn’t manifested in any meaningful way.

Even with knowledge of the record’s underlying themes, lyrically Hammond Jr. struggles to articulate anything poignantly. On Strangers, which could be a notable musing on loss, he simply states: “I feel I don't belong, I could be wrong. Man, time's so long.”

The serious tone, and any hint of true emotion, is undercut by a radiant guitar pattern along with an earworm hook and easy-rhyming but ultimately meaningless lyrics. Hammond Jr. spends 10 songs navigating heavy themes in a lighthearted fashion, whipping out his customary arsenal of major chord sequences and melodious choruses. Maybe this is why he told us it shouldn't be taken too seriously.

But, then again, the album does seem muddled due to the contradiction between thought process and content. A whole new persona/identity crisis/exploration of the self might, quite rightly, inspire a new sound or a way of writing. ‘Francis Trouble’, however, doesn’t seem radically different from anything we’ve heard before.

Far Away Truths and Rocky’s Late Night place vibrant, angular guitars at their forefront. Set To Attack takes a more laid back, less acrobatic approach. All do so in true Strokes fashion. They’re perfectly good indie-rock songs, but if Hammond is attempting to move away from this sound with his new reflective attitude to life, he hasn’t got very far.

‘Francis Trouble’ is confused. As always, Hammond Jr. does zippy guitar rock very (very) well. That hasn’t changed. Fans of ‘Yours to Keep’, ‘AHJ’ and the Strokes’ ‘Is This It’ will enjoy ‘Francis Trouble’ for its quirky, driving songs like Far Away Truths and Muted Beatings. But as far as the complete rewiring  goes? It seems Albert Hammond Jr. knew who he was all along.

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