The Stroke bounces back from druggy dawdling with a peppy, poppy record that hides a snarly underbelly
“Every one of those artists who have made brilliant music and enhanced your lives?” said wit, raconteur and sadly dead comedian Bill Hicks. He continued: “Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrreal fucking high on drugs. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few songs.” But the drugs thing doesn’t always work out so well. Take ‘Shotter’s Nation’ by Babyshambles, ‘Be Here Now’ by Oasis, ‘…Yes Please!’ by Happy Mondays. All below par. Which brings us to the five-year gap between Albert Hammond Jnr’s second album, 2008’s ‘¿Cómo Te Llama?’, and this solo return. In that period Albert’s musical output was stifled by his habit of shooting up speedballs of ketamine, cocaine and heroin while knocking back snifters of anthrax and having whole ounces of plague blown up his arse 300 times before breakfast. Possibly.
Coming out the other side of the sort of intake that’d have a horrified Peter Doherty turning up at your house to helm an intervention, Albert looks remarkably fit, healthy and happy to be back in the solo studio saddle. Likewise, the emotional darkness, self-pity and bitter recriminations that generally shroud post-rehab rock albums are hidden behind Hammond’s breezy sonic vistas. Just like the spritely freeway pop of his 2006 solo debut ‘Yours To Keep’ – and if you’re not familiar with that record’s standout ‘Back To The 101’, you’ve missed one of the century’s most infectious musical highs – he takes the itchy garage aesthetic of The Strokes and hooks it to sunny Americana melodies in thrall to Tom Petty and West Coast pop, juxtaposing New York cool with LA lustre.
Scratch at the melodic gleam, though, and there’s grit to be found. Unlike the guest-studded ‘Yours To Keep’, ‘AHJ’ is a very private, intense affair recorded in Hammond’s home studio by just Albert and writing partner Matt Romero, and it’s made for an added aggression, claustrophobia and lyrical introversion. “I can’t believe I lost my mind’’, he sings on ‘Strange Tidings’ in the closest to a blown-out hobo coke-croak he’s yet mustered, and the Beatledelic chorus has him declaring: “If I’m guilty I will pay”. “Self-inflicted nightmare’’, he intones on opener ‘Cooker Ship’, “lately I’m just not quite myself’’, leaving little doubt about what’s being cooked.
A spot of self-flagellation? Perhaps, but the playful kind: ‘Carnal Cruise’, Albert wracked with a hedonistic lack of control, takes on some subterranean Velvets muck that, for a few minutes, aligns him with the sordid psychedelia of Pond. And when he puts on a theatrical snarl and gets all-out creepy on ‘Rude Customer’, it’s literally to have a pop at shit waiters and soon gives way to a brilliantine chorus reminiscent of ’80s ELO. At only five tracks and 15 minutes, ‘AHJ’ feels like a cathartic stopgap. Whatever agonies Albert’s been through, he’s healing with hooks.