Review Summary: YtK brings the Strokes guitarist his own piece of the alt-rock pie. The record has a few good tracks, but lacks the real originality and energy that could make it great.
The cover of Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr.’s first solo album is far from the sounds and sights his primary band keeps very much at the heart of their style, but there it is. The cover depicts a warm, happy scene on the bank of a wide river. There are trees, a glowing sun and even a few bunny rabbits. No where in this painting would it suggest that the creator of the record was (is, really) one of the members of a New York City band that capitalized on, nay, popularized a stripped down rock and roll sound later to be christened “garage rock revival”. But maybe that’s what he wanted. With songs titled Its Hard to Live in the City, maybe all Albert wanted with Yours To Keep was to drop that persona. Even in the Strokes, Hammond himself may have played a more background role to frontman Julian Casablancas, but his unattractively high strapped Stratocaster and little brown jew fro are just as much a symbol of the band’s sound as any drunken, bleated lyric.
Hammond himself is a fairly good guitarist, and, as he proves on Yours to Keep, he’s not a half bad singer. Actually, the harmonies on opening track Cartoon Music for Superheroes are far from bad. The song is, like YtK’s cover art, a far cry from the alt-rock realm Hammond is so massive within, much more Beach Boys than Velvet Underground. The bright, ballad time chorus even sounds slightly reminiscent of Freak Folkies, Animal Collective, but let’s not get too unrealistic, Yours to Keep still retains many of the qualities one would expect from a Strokes record. On Bright Young Thing, Hammond’s voice gets a little more distortion, the music gets a little more attitude and all of a sudden things begin sounding like a Strokes b-side. Lead single 101 even has a bit of that Strokes flavor, especially seeing as though it is one of a surprisingly short amount of electric based songs on the album (the pop rock choruses don’t hurt much either).
Lyrically Albert is a pretty cut and dry, generic rock and roll singer-songwriter. In fact, there aren’t many moments on the record where he proves himself to be much more than that guy from that band. “His baby stayed where she was/I go talk to her 'cause/I wanna sleep with her” he sings on Call An Ambulance, beginning the second half of the album with something very, very far from a bang. Some of the songs sound like Spoon, some like The Beatles, and some like The Strokes, but it’s not something any of us haven’t ever heard before. He’s a good guitarist, but many of the tunes become lost in my memory upon instant contact. Rock music doesn’t really work in this day and age unless it has something different or memorable going on, and Hammond doesn’t work it out on many of these numbers. Hard to Live in the City, the album’s only track to go past the 5 minute mark works well as a catchy Indie song (the trumpet solo even gives us a break from guitar jams), but still features less than average lyrics (the only difference is that these go on for 5 and half minutes rather than 3). Hammond can’t even find the time to rhyme them apparently.
All in all, Yours To Keep isn’t bad, it’s just not great. Bouncy bass and catchy vocals keep it going, but sometimes it seems Albert Jr. has nothing substantial to fall back on.