Melodies on Hiatus is a title that sounds better suited to Julian Casablancas, the Stroke who spends his spare time peddling noise skronk with the Voidz. Is Albert Hammond Jr. really trying to tell us that he’s turned his back on hooks? The tongue-in-cheek framing of this tuneful solo album underscores the guitarist’s sense of humor, a quality often obscured by his day job in a band that prizes affectless cool.
There’s not much conventional cool to be found on Melodies on Hiatus. The extended release strategy—the first nine tracks dropped digitally last month—may be a calculated response to an oversaturated market, but it also aids in digesting this amorphous double album, whose leisurely sprawl reflects its long period of creation. Hammond began work on the material not long after releasing Francis Trouble in 2018.
Compulsive writing has been his constant state for years, his productivity hindered only by the fact that lyrics come as slowly as chords come quickly. Hammond admitted to The Guardian, “I don’t always hear the words in a song,” a problem he solved this time by collaborating with Simon Wilcox, a Canadian singer-songwriter who has written for Carly Rae Jepsen, Selena Gomez, and Nick Jonas. The pair engaged in a series of lengthy phone conversations which Wilcox used as inspiration for lyrics. The process yielded 19 songs for a double album that feels less like a coherent statement than a clearinghouse of ideas.
Hammond’s decision to hire Wilcox is evidence that he’s loosening the reins without quite letting them go. Wilcox’s words often mimic the cadences of the Strokes’ early years, filtering the guitarist’s thoughts, dreams, and impressions into the band’s trademark conversational sing-song. When he sings, “Cocktails to the drunken crowd/He wants to talk but it’s too loud/So he just stands and stares at her/Like she’s some exotic bird,” on “I Got You,” it feels like a conscious evocation of the insouciant decadence of the Strokes circa Y2K, yet the times have changed. Today, Hammond comes across as an observer, not a participant. Maybe that's why he buries his vocals in the mix, or perhaps it’s because he’s a music guy and not a words guy: The voice is just another instrument, the melody the engine of a pop song.
Melodies on Hiatus is essentially a pop album, a collection of brightly alluring confections that’s full of gilded arena-rock guitars, retro synth sounds, and high-gloss effects. Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders lays down a sprightly new-wave groove on “Thoughtful Distress”; rapper GoldLink wanders into “100-99” to deliver a verse only tenuously connected to the song around it. But such seemingly superfluous flourishes are the point: What happens in the margins gives Melodies on Hiatus its shape.
Usually, that flair is enough to keep Melodies on Hiatus engaging, as it never sits still. It’s fun to hear Hammond tip his hat to Spoon on the nocturnal “Downtown Fred,”; “Dead Air” is a spiky neon-lit throwback; and “Never Stop” swaggers like an AOR hit pining for a MTV that’s yet to be invented. Some tracks are more compelling than others, but that’s to be expected when an artist writes by throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks. The melodies on Hammond’s album are in ample supply; it’s the urge to self-edit that’s taken a breather.
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