By now Albert Hammond Jr. has surely retold the story hundreds of times. In 1979, his mother Claudia gave birth to a stillborn son, Francis. But, at the time of the miscarriage, doctors failed to determine that Francis was not alone in utero. There was another child, a fetal twin brother who continued growing in his mother’s womb undetected for six whole months. Five months later Albert Hammond Jr. was born.
Hammond Jr. grew up with the knowledge of his twin brother Francis. However, it was only at the age of 36 that he learned a piece of his brother had been born alongside himself: a fingernail. This revelation is the catalyst for Hammond Jr.’s latest studio album Francis Trouble, a dynamic and oftentimes devastating journey to the root of his own identity. Albert Hammond Jr. uses the character of Francis Trouble to navigate the ineffable intricacies of his own mind. While speaking with DORK Magazine, Albert acknowledged that “it’s much easier to find yourself, or grow, through a mask. It just so happens that this story is true.” In another statement, Albert further described his motivation for using a character to write the album: “I think [the music] should be tarted up, made into a character, a parody of itself. The music is the mask the message wears and I, the performer, am the message.”
Francis Trouble is Hammond Jr.’s most self-aware album yet. Over the course of ten tracks, he unpeels layer after layer of psyche until all that is left is desperate Id. The thirty-six minutes of runtime begin in a soft birdsong (“DvsL”) and friendly riff, a promise of comfort and security that the album quickly subverts. The earlier songs on the album, including singles “Muted Beatings” and “Far Away Truths”, focus on the relief found in brief moments of lust. Even these softer tracks are littered with the ache of uncertainty: “I know you like me possessed, but lately I’ve been a mess / You got me thinkin’, are we closer than before?” muses Hammond Jr. in “Muted Beatings” before ending the song with a desperate, repeated howl of: “Where will we go? / I don’t care!”
If the first half of the album is a soulful exploration of interpersonal relationships, the second half is an intimate confessional. This confessional culminates in the album’s antepenultimate track “Rocky’s Late Night”, on which Hammond Jr. urgently cries: “There is an emptiness that I cannot describe / What was another take, I took in double-time / I lack perfection, nothing can be made / What must be broken now is left to rearrange.” Optimism proceeds to rear its auspicious head on “Harder, Harder, Harder”, the last song on Francis Trouble. The album ends with Albert screaming “Change yourself!” to no one in particular before plunging headfirst into a triumphant, arena-ready guitar solo.
Hammond Jr.’s guitar is the beating heart of the record, always in control as his capricious thoughts wander from desire to to loneliness to self-loathing (often in the same song). The moment of silence between each strum holds an awe-some measure of kinetic energy that quickly releases in practiced staccato pattern. The tangible electricity crackling out of his strat permeates the melancholy of the album with a sense of urgency and warmth, creating an oddly lighthearted musical dynamic in despite of the album’s troubling subject matter. Seasoned fans of Hammond Jr.’s work couldn’t have been too surprised to hear a deep juxtaposition between the record’s sound and subject; the sweet spot between amusement and emotional desolation has always been Hammond Jr.’s stronghold. “What the music says may be serious, but as a medium it should not be questioned, analyzed or taken too seriously,” explained Hammond Jr. in a recent statement about the process of writing Francis Trouble. This statement evidently carries over to his three previous full-length releases Yours To Keep (2006), ¿Cómo Te Llama? (2008), and Momentary Masters (2015), each tackling similarly heavy subjects with a sense of playfulness and grace.
Even in its moments of greatest conviction, Francis Trouble is rich with confident 60’s guitar tones, straight-talking quips, and singalong choruses. It glows with a sense of masked optimism that comes not from lyrics, but honest guitar work and a deep understanding of human identity. The album tells a story that perhaps Hammond Jr. hadn’t even intended to tell: the tale of a man discovering what it means to be vulnerable, and the death and rebirth that occurs in this process. Track after track, we follow our Francis Trouble deeper into the heart of the human experience, stopping only to appreciate Hammond Jr.’s zippy music as our anchor. The album’s openness makes it keenly inclusive: if Albert Hammond Jr. is a master of anything, it is how to make us feel like we are a part of his stories. There is something indiscernible about his work that begs us to project ourselves into it, to put on the mask Hammond Jr. has created and confront the pain that makes us human. We are all Francis Trouble.
Hammond Jr.’s solo catalog lives in a different, simpler universe than his other musical project (whose name often seems to dilute the value of Hammond Jr.’s equally – if not more – proficient solo efforts). For well over ten years, Albert Hammond Jr. has been putting out some of the most thoughtful, delightful, and underappreciated music of his generation. A sparkling addition to his discography, Francis Trouble is a timeless testament to the universal questions of identity, loneliness, and absolution — and by the end of the album, it is hard not to interpret Albert Hammond Jr.’s final cry of “Change yourself!” as a victory not only for Francis Trouble, but for ourselves.
Check it out below and don’t forget to catch Albert Hammond Jr. on tour in your area.
by Megan Schaller