Albert Hammond, Jr. doesn’t need a solo career.
That’s not a joke. His status as indie rock guitar hero has been more or less set in stone since The Strokes released Is This It? on an unsuspecting planet in 2001. 2006’s Yours To Keep, 2008’s ¿Cómo Te Llama?, his 2013 EP AHJ, and Momentary Masters have little sway over his influence and legend, cemented somewhere between “New York City Cops” and “12:51”. His work with the Strokes has rendered him partially responsible for the mere existence of Arctic Monkeys and pretty much every other twenty-first century indie band. Get the picture? No solo career necessary.
And yet Hammond, Jr. seems unconcerned with his legend, carrying on and creating amidst constant press speculation over the Strokes. Momentary Masters, funnily enough, serves as a testament to how integral Hammond, Jr. is to his original band’s sound, an illuminating isolation of sorts. He hasn’t shed his skin the way bandmate Julian Casablancas did (and needed to) with 2014’s Tyranny – one of the most polarizing and political records in recent memory – and he’s better for it.
After all, Hammond, Jr. as solo artist and Hammond, Jr. as one-fifth of the Strokes need not be mutually exclusive; the raw post-punk power of the Lower East Side circa 2000 he channels throughout the record still freaking rocks. And while drastic innovation has its perks, “Drunched in Crumbs” is no less enjoyable because it conjures fond memories of Room On Fire’s back half.
Even so, fans blindsided by Casablancas’ Tyranny ought not to treat Momentary Masters as a Strokes record by any other name. The album is a committed endeavor made by an individual exploring his identity minus the chemical highs for the first time in years. Album opener “Born Slippy” references the 1995 Underworld hit of the same name and Trainspotting, mixing meditations on his strung-out past with blindingly bright guitarwork. The collision of dark and light is intriguing, and just one of many moments where Hammond, Jr. pushes his songwriting to smarter and more nuanced heights.
Speaking of those heights, “Caught By My Shadow” is among his most intelligent reinterpretations of “guitar music” ever, barbed with distortion and intensified by a sharp synth-driven middle eight. “Touché” is laser-focused study in emotional maturity after the glory days of hedonistic youth (“Now that we’re not perfect we can be good”); but the Clash-esque “Razor’s Edge” emerges as the album’s lyrical highlight (“A momentary crime in silence / Your violence is louder than your words”).
Momentary Masters is a personal record – liberated even – but one constantly aware of its larger surroundings. Armed with a title referencing Carl Sagan’s writings on the insignificance of human existence within the infinite universe, Hammond, Jr. elevates the album past navel-gazing to something personal but not overtly confessional, straightforward but never obvious. This is his journey back to himself through all his complexities: assured, tender, bold, loving, bitter, and cautiously optimistic. With the exception of one unnecessary and over-modernized cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” near the halfway point, Momentary Masters just nails it.
Sure, Albert Hammond, Jr. doesn’t need this record anymore than he needed its predecessors. What a massive delight it is to have it around anyway.