Albert Hammond Jr. crafts an album about brotherhood, loss and existential identity—and it rocks
“I knew the story,” says Albert Hammond Jr. “I’d always known the story, but when I was 36, some parts of it I hadn’t known before started coming out, and I thought, ‘Wow, why didn’t anybody tell me this sooner?’”
Here’s the story: Albert Hammond Jr. was—or is, or was to have been—a twin. But early in the development process, as sometimes occurs, his fetal brother ceased to develop, after which point Hammond continued on his own. What he didn’t know until recently was that developed parts of his brother had remained in the womb intact. When Hammond was born, at least one fully grown part of his brother—a tiny, complete fingernail—emerged with him, embedded in the placenta.
Hammond’s aunt was the one who finally shared that piece of information with him, three and a half decades later. “It was so moving to me,” he says. “It made complete sense, too. I was an only child, but I’d never really felt alone.”
The story of Albert Hammond Jr.’s brother, and the implications it raises for identity and creativity, are at the heart of Francis Trouble (Red Bull), Hammond’s fourth full-length. In other hands, such a subject might’ve resulted in a heavy-sounding meditation on birth, death and infinity, but Francis Trouble wraps its thoughtful lyricism in lively, energetic rock music.
“I sort of like that,” laughs Hammond, “that people might come to it expecting a much heavier experience, and instead it’s this colorful, bright sound. It fits against the last record (2015’s Momentary Masters), too. That one was all about the shadow, the black-and-white, and this one’s about color, about using dark energy to create something beautiful. The inspiration comes from the story, but the music didn’t want to situate any of itself in darkness.”
Anthony Burgess, the British author of canonical adolescent dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, once suggested that youth might be prone to damage because it has a surplus of energy, but very little of the necessary patience or training required to create; and so instead it turns to destruction, which feels easier and more within reach. Hammond, the guitarist of the Strokes and the son of famed songwriter Albert Hammond Sr., knows how much of yourself can be consumed by a flaming youth.
“I’m grateful for both the band and my father,” he says. “At the same time, that sort of background can create challenges. The songs (on Francis Trouble) needed something for their own sake. Funnily enough, I needed to be something else in order to show my strengths and weaknesses more freely.”
Francis Trouble clearly bears the imprint of Hammond’s eclectic solo aesthetic in its driving tempos and passing-note chord changes. But the album leans deeply into a much more powerful and expansive sound than even the Strokes are wont to deliver, as if the critical questions of identity and brotherhood raised by the LP’s inspiration required a fuller sound to adequately explore. “Set To Attack,” “ScreaMER” (with its irresistible backing-vocal quote from the Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil”) and the comparatively demure “Rocky’s Late Night” set the project’s tone, which is intense but never morose.
“There are heavier layers in the lyrics, but the music’s fun,” says Hammond. “Sometimes writing gets heavy. I always forget. I’ll be walking around and ask my wife, ‘Why am I so bummed?’ ‘Well, it’s because you’ve been churning things up, and you’re in the middle of a process.’ But this one, even though I was unsure about what I was doing, it felt cool. It didn’t even feel like ‘me.’
“That John Denver song, ‘Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stones)’? I can’t stop listening to it. Yeah, that’s it. It’s so hard to remember just that one little thing, you know? But I’ve really been enjoying sitting in this place for a while. It’s already within you and around you. There are signs all around. We’re usually blinded by the day to day. But if you really observe long enough, you start to notice that good things come toward you.”