Francis Trouble is the fourth solo album from The Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., who was the first of the band to pursue a separate career alongside The Strokes with the release of Yours to Keep back in 2006. Since then he has followed up with ¿Cómo Te Llama? and Momentary Masters, and Francis Trouble is a fantastic continuation, truly showing his personality as an artist. It’s also a very personal work for Hammond, as it was inspired by the miscarriage of his twin brother Francis and the haunting effect this event has had on his life. Don’t expect anything too morbid though – Hammond has insisted that the album not be taken too seriously, and Francis Trouble proves to be energetic, confident and vibrant.
First track ‘Dvsl’ opens with birdsong swiftly followed by punchy guitar riffs. The lyrics play on a fun, experimental answer and response style, which introduces the theme of duality that recurs throughout the album. It’s picked up again on third track ‘Muted Beatings’, where the increasing tempo evokes a rapid heartbeat and matches the fragmented uncertainty of the lyrics, “Where will we go?”, “I don’t care”. Another of the singles released from the album, ‘Far Away Truths’ also has a fabulously catchy hook, simultaneously joyful and serious, foregrounding Hammond’s vocal talents and perfectly mirrored by a pacy, playful backing riff.
Listening to the first few tracks, it’s easy to pick out strong similarities to The Strokes’ albums, although this is perhaps inevitable (and by no means a bad thing). Yet while Francis Trouble incorporates these influences, it still very much bears Hammond’s individual imprint, and his solo career is at the stage now where he definitely can and should be considered a front man and songwriter in his own right. He doesn’t move too far away from The Strokes’ sound, but then again he doesn’t need to, because it’s a style that he perfects and has managed to put his own unique twist on in all of his solo efforts to date.
The album is similar in style to Hammond’s previous work
The central section of the album is steadier, more serious and more sentimental, as Hammond sings nostalgically of a high school dance on ‘Set to Attack’, his murmuring vocals slightly calling Casablancas to mind. This track also features a particularly exceptional guitar solo – there are many on the album but this one deserves a shout-out, as does the gorgeous saxophone which closes ‘Tea For Two’. Indeed, the guitars are really the stars of the show throughout – closing track ‘Harder, Harder, Harder’ really shows off Hammond’s skill with powerful riffs layered over each other. ‘Screamer’ turns the energy levels briefly back up again for a forceful two and a half minutes, before ‘Rocky’s Late Night’ dives back into contemplation, as Hammond reflects that, “I’m not the same as I was before”. He definitely seems to meditate on the past a lot throughout Francis Trouble, whether on his childhood or on former romantic relationships, and this is occasionally with a sense of regret or nostalgia, but more commonly simply a tone of reflection, in keeping with his explanations of the influences of his past on the making of the album.
Not all of the tracks are as strong as others, and ‘Strangers’ in particular falls a little flat, while the aggressive vibe of ‘Screamer’ doesn’t seem to mesh well with the songs around it. The album is similar in style to Hammond’s previous work, and doesn’t offer anything especially ground-breaking, but it’s a solid indie rock album nonetheless. Above all, it’s nice to see Hammond firmly established now as a solo artist in his own right, something that his talent certainly merits.