There is no better metaphor for the music on Albert Hammond Jr.’s sophomore solo album, ¿Cómo Te Llama?, than the cover. The figures of four men (Hammond and his new band) sitting in a room are cut out and left looking like empty silhouettes; emotionless, empty, devoid of any unique characteristics, yet it’s technically proficient (I am loath to think how long it took the cover designer to do that work on Photoshop).
When he struck out on his own in 2006 (via Yours to Keep), after lead Stroke Julian Casablancas decided to take a break, Hammond sounded like a college student who had just discovered he had a knack for songwriting and dug through his dad’s Lennon albums for inspiration. Some of the tracks were pretty good — “101,” “Call an Ambulance,” “Holiday” and “In Transit”; the rest were notable only for their existence. But you couldn’t really blame Hammond. The guy had been creatively stifled for the better part of eight years. There was reason to expect a few duds.
But ¿Cómo Te Llama? is composed almost entirely of the same kind of songs that made Yours to Keep such a lopsided affair. Lead single “GfC,” the non-Brian Wilson-like “In My Room,” “Bargain of a Century,” “You Won’t Be Fooled by This” and “Lisa,” are all semi-decent SoCal pop experiments, but they aren’t worth more than three or four listens. Hammond can write some decent ditties, but it all seems so practiced, like he spent a lot of time studying how to make pop songs. The motions are right but the connection is non-existent.
Luckily for Hammond, emotional detachment doesn’t matter in dance music, so the punk-funk of “Victory at Monterey” is a perfect fit. Hammond croaks non-entities in his off-key baritone over a heavy walking bass line courtesy of bassist Josh Lattanzi and quick guitar lines. It’s a strange genre exercise sandwiched between two limp pieces on either side, but it starts a trend of similarly odd choices, like a seven-minute haunting instrumental (“Spooky Couch” featuring Sean Lennon on piano) and a pair of white-boy reggae tracks (“Borrowed Time” and “Miss Myrtle”). But these are the moments that stick on ¿Cómo Te Llama?, the ones that seem exciting, the ones that expose Hammond as a guy vain enough to think he can do reggae and dance-punk. Too bad that’s not true of the rest of the album.