In 1979 Albert Hammond Jr.’s mother Claudia Fernández miscarried and the baby - named Francis - did not survive. At the age of 36, his twin Albert Hammond Jr. learnt that Francis’s fingernail stayed in the womb with him. Such a revelation strongly informs and colours ‘Francis Trouble’, his fourth solo album.
On tracks like ‘Muted Beatings’ this manifests itself in an oppressive malaise. ‘Rocky’s Late Night’ is languid with hooks aplenty and a guitar line reminiscent of Edwyn Collins’ conception of Nile Rodgers, but on it he laments, “I’m not the same as I was before” – this “emptiness that [he] cannot describe” looms large. The presence of another, in the shape of backing vocals, does assuage the oppressiveness to an extent, but is it really an issue? We instinctively recoil because a journey to his mother’s womb and his twin’s stillbirth seems somehow too much, especially as the music with which he has been involved for God knows how long tends to revel in that louche, impersonal kind of abstraction, but here it lends an emotional potency to what could otherwise be slightly derivative.
Otherwise, polite indie rock abounds, chirpy at points, melancholy at others. It seems more withdrawn than 2016’s ‘Momentary Masters’, a bit more restrained, but there are the same old trebly guitars and those drums that occupy that space between insouciance and intricacy. Sure, it’s not always that exciting and it doesn’t seem like the reference points have changed, but it’s authentic and worms its way into your head. He approaches the joyous opener, ‘DvsL’, with an anglophone eye. ‘Stop And Go’ is a sinuous number in a familiar mould, neatly and tightly structured. ‘ScreaMER’ seems excessive by comparison, in its guitar solo and vocal performance.
Albert Hammond Jr. previously echoes the words of David Bowie, saying “what the music says may be serious, but as a medium it should not be questioned, analysed or taken too seriously.” Call this a mismatch, a contradiction, if you want, but only he can fully acknowledge this seriousness, this complexity. And if this is a ‘coming-to-terms-with’-type record, it does suggest he is starting that process, even if - musically - the progression remains somewhat tender.
Words: Wilf Skinner
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