Albert Hammond Jr. – Momentary Masters
For a fleeting moment in the fall of 2001, it seemed that The Strokes had reinvented the wheel. The debut album, Is This It, did what all great rock ’n’ roll records do: It offered only the slightest alteration of a tried and true format with verve and panache. Basically, The Strokes streamlined the musical formulas of antecedent bands like Television and (to a lesser degree) The Velvet Underground in a pop context to reap semi-big sales. The band delivered an exceptionally well-dressed and well-executed recreation of NYC protopunk for a global mass market. The songs were stick-in-your-craw catchy and fun. And the band wore tight pants and had really cool hair. (Sorry folks, but tight pants and cool hair are as or more important than musical talent in the rock ’n’ roll game. That’s just how it is.)
The Strokes were an utterly polarizing band in the world of indie rock. People either loved them or hated them. There was no in-between. Their success could only be interpreted in two ways: 1.) it was refreshing that finally, finally a band with cool influences was having radio semi-hits, or 2.) it fucking sucked that privileged, coddled charlatans like The Strokes were bastardizing the sacred motifs of classic protopunk for fame and filthy lucre. (I belonged to group 1, BTW.)
Well, here we are almost 15 years later. Is This It is still one of the few post-millennial albums that has held my attention for years. But The Strokes subsequent albums have yielded increasingly fewer rewards with each release.
In fact, I finally fired The Strokes. 2011’s Angles was so bad I didn’t even bother buying 2013’s fittingly titled Comedown Machine. I had been an ardent fan. But these days I’m kind of hoping the band just admits they hate each other’s guts and quits releasing shitty albums. The first album’s still great, but the dream is dead.
Albert Hammond Jr.’s hair kinda/sorta mirrors the progress of the band, or lack thereof. In 2001, Hammond sported a mane of raven, corkscrew locks that rivaled none other than the late Marc Bolan’s. These days, said raven mane is far receded and tightly-cropped – much in the same way that The Strokes’ promise has been neglected, squandered and/or anesthetized into oblivion.
Granted, using Hammond’s hair as a metaphor for the career of The Strokes is a mean-spirited and too-easy way of analyzing things. Hammond still looks great. He’s deftly avoided the permanently affixed hat and headband that has tragically afflicted so many follically challenged rockers. He is, after all, a grown man. Hammond is still utterly stylish and still wears tight pants. And perhaps more importantly, he still writes good songs.
Then again, maybe the hair metaphor still works. Hammond’s latest solo outing, Momentary Masters is a tightly-cropped, sensibly streamlined affair. It is the work of a grown man who continues to realize his talent in an adult context.
Clocking in at less than 40 minutes, Momentary Masters lives up to its title by delivering 10 short and snappy pop/rock songs that, well, they just work. They’re fun. They’re memorable. They have substance without grappling for (ahem) eclecticism, emotional depth or artistic relevance. (Julian Casablancas would be well served by taking some songwriting [and self-editing] lessons from Hammond, BTW.) They’re never boring. So, while Momentary Masters may not capture the zeitgeist in the way that Is This It did for whatever the hell 2001’s era of “The” bands (Vines, White Stripes, Libertines, Hives et al) did, it’s a damned fine, well-crafted, entertaining and fittingly hair-appropriate album that’s an ideal soundtrack for driving a sensible midsized car, aerobicizing, coffee drinking or whatever low risk, grown-up activities an urbane, moderately successful adult might face. In midlife, we come to accept diminished expectations. Things could be much, much worse. Right, Julian? Oh yeah.
Albert Hammond Jr.