If you’re even moderately cynical, the blueprint to Albert Hammond Jr.’s music is rife with red flags: the affinity for ’70s pop clichés, the certain cellophane sheen, the saccharine lyrics, the Bono-quality Spanish. And, of course, the ever-looming specter of his “other” band, which is especially hard to avoid when your songs are chock-full of Strokes signifiers: snapped snares, twitchy guitar sounds, sweetly parabolic melodies, and a romantically lethargic vocal delivery that’s only a grade of coarseness away from that of Julian Casablancas himself. Actually, Hammond’s approach to song aesthetics—basic, thin, and stylish—is a lot closer to the early-Strokes style the band’s fans have lately been demanding than anything the Strokes themselves have recently recorded.
First and foremost, though, he’s the son of a songwriter. What’s invariably clear on ¿Cómo Te Llama? is that Hammond understands how a popular rock song is made, and how it works: He has an iron-clad grip on traditional forms, writes good melodies with apparent ease, keeps it simple, and decorates tastefully with a variety of twirls and twinkles. For the most part, his tunes locate the space where those pretty hokey traditions reconcile with hipper sensibilities. And like the son of a musician, his records also sound really good: professionally savvy, polished, and cleanly produced. As such, when he fails, it usually isn’t because he’s written a particularly “bad” song, but rather a completely benign one. More or less, he walks the same tightrope here: “Victory at Monterrey”— with its processed vocals, nightclub pulse, and I said/She said storyline—flirts too heavily with a concept, devolving into a sterile case of Killers-style dance rock. “Rocket” and “The Boss Americana” also suffer from too much gloss.
By contrast, though, “Bargain of a Century” and “GFC” are pleasantly messy: Hammond stretches his delivery into something that’s both sweet and rough, the guitars become more locomotive than ornamental, and the crispness of the album’s sound is more deeply felt as a result. ¿Cómo Te Llama? is best when the songs seem to shake and quaver within their candy-coated shells; fittingly, that’s when they’re at their Strokes-iest. It’s a slippery slope this guy is skiing, but it can be pretty fun listening to him do it.