Albert Hammond, Jr.

Francis Trouble

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As far as album concepts go, Francis Trouble's is one of a kind. For his fourth solo effort, Albert Hammond, Jr. took inspiration from the fact that a small part of his stillborn twin Francis -- a fingernail, to be exact -- remained in the womb with him until his birth six months later. This could be morose subject matter, but Hammond, Jr. doesn't take it too seriously. Instead, Francis Trouble's comic book-inspired artwork and conception of Francis as a character in his own right emphasizes how lively this music is. While there are plenty of allusions to grief and alienation on "Rocky's Late Night" ("There is an emptiness I cannot describe") and "Strangers" ("How strange/The feeling to be strangers"), more often than not he sounds invigorated as he uses the lingering impact of his missing twin as a metaphor for loss and identity crises of all kinds. On the rowdy album-opening "DVSL" and the garagey catharsis of "Screamer," he captures the feeling of being knocked sideways by life and brings back a little of the looseness of Yours to Keep and Como Te Llama? Elsewhere, the missed connections on tender almost-ballads like "Muted Beatings"' and "Stop and Go" come closest to dealing with the album's theme directly, yet still feel universal. Producer and longtime collaborator Gus Oberg underscores this intimacy by bringing a warmth and depth to Francis Trouble that Momentary Masters -- and the Strokes' later albums for that matter -- sometimes lacked. Though "Tea for Two," a jagged look at a relationship that's run its course, could (and maybe should) have appeared on one of that band's albums, the weariness in Hammond, Jr.'s vocals feels more genuine -- and more riveting -- here. If anything, razor-sharp songs like "Far Away Truths" find him doubling down on the crunchy hooks and confessional lyrics of the Strokes' early days and claiming them as his own. Though its second half isn't quite as deft as its first, Francis Trouble continues the streak Hammond, Jr. has been on since the AHJ EP. With albums like this, his identity as a master of smart, emotional guitar pop is secure.

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