Being in The Strokes must be stressful. Even though 14 years have passed since Is This It sparked all that talk about the New York City quintet saving its city and rock ’n’ roll, some of the hype, backlash, and expectations linger. Julian Casablancas and company are no longer leather-clad scruffball messiahs, but each new record or tour feels like an event. No wonder the group’s lower-stakes side projects tend to be so satisfying.
The best of the bunch might still be Little Joy—drummer Fabrizio Moretti’s refreshing dip into tropical cocktail-bar indie—but rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.’s solo work always goes down smooth. After releasing two ’00s albums of grabby guitar-pop and kicking a drug habit that nearly killed him, Hammond picks up where 2013’s AHJ EP left off and returns with Momentary Masters, his most robust, high-minded, and yes, Strokes-like LP yet.
The album title references a quote by astronomer Carl Sagan about man’s insignificance in the universe, and throughout the 10 tracks, Hammond uses needling riffs, driving rhythms, and his drill bit of a voice to bore into some deep issues. He explores greed on the politely disco-rocking “Power Hungry,” then spits Jungian psychology over chopper-blade guitars on the fast and fuzzy “Caught By My Shadow.” “Losing Touch”—about just that—is a roughed-up take on Jeff Lynne’s production work with Tom Petty and the Traveling Wilburys, while the New Wave-flavored “Razors Edge” could almost be called “Turning Japanese In A Big Country.”
And because Momentary Masters is a “what does it all mean?” album recorded in upstate New York, Hammond exercises his right to cover Bob Dylan. There are two ways to approach “Don’t Think Twice”—pissed off or pragmatically regretful—and unfortunately, Hammond’s flimsy rendition is neither.
Still, the ambitiousness is nice to see—particularly from a guy who’s feeling rejuvenated after sobering up and reading some good books. If only it didn’t come at the price of the casualness that made 2008’s ¿Cómo Te Llama? such a fun listen. There’s questioning and anxiety in every song on Momentary Masters—even the swaying ballad “Coming To Getcha,” all about death, and the frenetic closer he chose to call “Side Boob.”
Healthy living and hearty curiosity have inspired some lively rock songs, but being Albert Hammond Jr. still sounds pretty stressful.