With 'The Strokes' currently on hiatus, most of the members are taking some time out to enjoy a little independence in the form of the solo project. First there was Albert Hammond Jnr, then there was Nickel Eye. Third to the party is the band's drummer Fabrizio Moretti with side-project 'Little Joy'. He ensures the apple falls over the border, but still not too far from the tree.
As it has likely been mentioned before, the solo project (note that it is always referred to as a 'solo project' if one member of the band is more famous than the others, even if there happens to be three members within the band in question) is a tricky beast. Obviously you wish to be true to yourself, which likely involves treading similar steps to your day job (unless you're in a pop band and hate your life/music) but then you want to make your own mark, etch out some new territory and numerous other metaphors for expanding your horizons.
The trouble is that this can often lead to a preliminary brainstorm approach to music. Too many disparate genres pulled into one place without sufficient thought to how they complement each other. While this is not an issue which blights Little Joy's eponymous album considerably, it is still one which causes the odd smear to the veneer.
For the endeavour, Moretti has joined forces with Brazilian singer and guitarist Rodrigo Amarante, best known for his work with the band Los Hermanos. From the melding of their minds results a sunburst nostalgia-driven affair which pitches the sounds of contemporary samba, samba-canÃ§Ã£o, and post-bossa nova with folk, indie and the garage rock for which The Strokes are best known. Also assisting the boys is the woman widely reported to be Fab's post-Barrymore squeeze Binki Shapiro. Interestingly, the 'Post-Barrymore Squeeze' is also a term used by coroners in the UK to describe the tough task of fitting water-bloated bodies into the back of their vans.
While the resulting sound is undeniably pleasant, there is little here which suggests the source being world-class musicians bursting to the seams with inspiration. Tracks veer wildly from influence to influence, devoting three minutes to one before swiftly moving on to the next. "No One's Better Sake" opts for a Caribbean polish (pronounced Carry-bee-an Poll-ish), "How To Hang A Warhol" evokes the strongest of The Strokes comparisons, "Play the Part" goes for a subdued cabin chant vibe and "The Next Time Around" features a stripped down, carousel personality. Few, if any, of the tracks exhibit anything in the way of continuity, especially when they decide to ditch the boys altogether from lead-vocal duties.
On "Unattainable" Shapiro is left - for the first of two occasions - in charge of the microphone. With her debut lead song on the album one could never claim that the lady doesn't lack technical ability. What is lacking though, is the empathic nature demanded of a vocalist to pull off a downbeat lament in the style of lovelorn lounge-singer draping herself across the black sheen of a piano. Second time around on "Don't Watch Me Dancing", this issue is thoroughly nixed as she discovers the shudder-inducing sadness within her very soul. "There he is a step outside her view / Deciding the words he hopes she might pursue / Night upon night the faithful light shone / Can only convince his legs across the floor." purrs her evocative voice as the rest of the gang burst into an echo-strewn group chorus line. Along with "Shoulder to Shoulder" - a pleasingly upbeat number which parlays dynamic vocals which constantly trip over themselves (in a good way) into a subtly shifting ether - "Don't Watch Me Dancing" forms the powerhouse duo holding the weight of the band's self-titled album.
The main barrier condemning this album to virtual oblivion is that it is too slow-paced and too slight to make anything in the way of a serious impact upon people's hearts and minds. Tracks like "Play the Part" struggle to remain the centre of attention and may have been better served set as the score to a 40's movie where the hero and heroine dance under the stars, lamenting the fate that awaits them upon the close of their waltz.
While ending with a play on a band's name is nothing new, a Little Joy is exactly what the album has to offer. Sometimes though, a little is enough. Sometimes it isn't.