When the Strokes occasionally reappear, as they last did in England at Hyde Park in 2015, their shows tend to be vast events with a corporate air. Albert Hammond Jr’s frenetic guitar riffs are most visible through binoculars from the faraway distance on those occasions, so the songwriter himself might prefer the relative normality of going it alone. His solo tours seem altogether calmer than his experiences at the height of the Strokes’ fame, when his myriad vices were well-documented (in 2009, when the band began to record their third album, he went into three months of rehab, and subsequently wondered whether he had “killed everyone’s dreams”.)
Hammond Jr’s new album, ‘Francis Trouble’, explores the stillborn death of his twin brother, Francis, in 1979. His mother only discovered that she was still carrying Albert six months into her pregnancy, and Hammond Jr was 36 when an aunt informed him that part of his twin – a fingernail – remained in the womb and was born with him.
The video for his new single, created by young London director Fraser Rigg, is typically conceptual: in ‘Muted Beatings’, Hammond Jr and actress Portia Doubleday play lovers releasing a symbol of loss into an ocean. “I found myself realising the cycle of who I was and what I was about to become,” he says of the idea. “The death of my old self and the birth of this new person transcended space and time.”
Franz Ferdinand, whose UK tour Hammond Jr is supporting ahead of his album release next month, are also talking rebirth: the bullish publicity accompanying their new album, ‘Always Ascending’, speaks of a “triumphant recasting”, “vigorous sonic experimentation” and a record “so foreign in its familiarity that it could only be current.” That might sound ominously like the kind of wording that traditionally precedes a particularly ill-judged change of direction, but the band hasn’t deviated that far from its usual artful charm.
Philippe Zdar was busy with the Beastie Boys when Franz Ferdinand previously encountered him, and the producer has created a record of sharp disco and theatrical pop, having been tracked down by the group’s leader, Alex Kapranos. “We were creating a band,” says Kapranos. “I couldn’t sleep because there were too many ideas flooding each other.”
There’s a rising appreciation between Kapranos and Hammond Jr, too: after their gig at Manchester’s Albert Hall, Kapranos called it “an honour” to share the stage with the opening act. They’ll be joined at the Dome by Meggie Brown, whose post-punk debut single, ‘Coming Back Again’, has been produced by the Franz Ferdinand singer.
Brighton Dome, Sunday 25th February 2018