The Strokes guitarrist flies solo

Courtesy photo

Albert Hammond Jr.'s solo debut "Yours to Keep" outshines his previous art with the Strokes.

Christopher Bengtsson

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Albert Hammond Jr, the guitar king of the Strokes draws upon the best of his band and Jonathan Ritchman in the creation his debut solo album, “Yours to Keep.”

The Strokes latest full-lengther, “Impressions of Earth” (2006, RCA records) was in many ways a weird release. It was not a bad record, but there was definitely something missing. And odd parts were added to make up for it.

The sound had moved drastically from the CBGB’s, Television-pop of the New York band’s earlier releases, and replaced it with heavier guitars and it wasn’t catchy. The melodies just weren’t there. It sounded forced, like the Strokes ran out of ideas and didn’t really know what to do about it.

Upon listening to Hammond Jr’s “Yours to Keep” though, it is easy to dismiss “Impressions of Earth” as the near mythic ‘impossible’ third album. The kind of record you have to struggle through in order to cut loose from all the creative baggage of writing rock’n’roll music.

The songs on “Yours to Keep” open up and welcome the listener where “Impressions of Earth” was a tad unacessable and more concentrated upon sounding cool than sounding good.

Hammond Jr has added playful and fun ideas reminiscent of Jonathan Ritchman with the clear and concise melodies of the earliest Strokes singles, creating a perfect match.

There is a faint sense of faux-soul created by the mellow bass-lines and synthesizers together with the upbeat drums, which just makes you happy. Anyone whose heard the “Impressions of Eath”-outake “Clear Skies” will rejoice.

The song material is exceptional, with a broad range of ideas. It is an odd thought that perhaps Julian Casablancas and Nick Valensi, together with the other members of the Strokes, were holding Hammond Jr back.

From the high velocity pop-bullet of “In Transit,” to the more singer-songwriter influenced “Blue Skies,” the straightforwardness of the melodies is refreshing. “Yours to Keep” is a highly listenable album to run through from the top to the bottom.

The contrieved direction and dry production of “Impressions of Earth” is nowhere to be seen. From the break into the chorus of the Strokes classic “Someday” at the end of the amiable “Bright Young Thing” to the coolheaded first single “Everyone gets a Star,” “Yours to Keep” is filled to the brim with creativity.

Hammond Jr has collaborated together with an interesting range of artists for his solo album. The aforementioned Casablancas, Ben Kweller, Sean Lennon, Sammy James Jr. and Ryan Gentles all appear on “Yours to Keep” and grace the album with their presence.

The album was recorded by Greg Lattimer at Electric Ladyland studios in New York, together with Hammond Jr (guitars and vocals), Josh Lattanzi (bass), and Matt Romano (drums). It is important to mention that Hammond Jr is not leaving the Strokes, and the venture of “Yours to Keep” is but a successful side project.

The opening track is aptly named “Cartoon music for Super Heroes,” which gives you a good label for the album straight off the bat. Hammond Jr’s “Yours to Keep” reeks of pop culture, mixing the cartoony aesthetics of Bugs Bunny with Roy Lichtenstein’s feeling for catching the moment in his printmaking. And it’s not in an elitist way either. This is easy-listening music at its best.

“Yours to Keep” was released in the UK on October 6th of this year. Currently it is available through European import only. It is unclear when the record is going to be released in the US.

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