Sean Lennon's new record, "Friendly Fire" (Capitol Records), is so magnificent that it makes The Beatles' "Abbey Road" sound like a Herman's Hermits' record. OK, maybe not. But the truth is, this is no son riding on the long coattails of his genius father, the eternal godhead of pop music. With this album, Sean Lennon has earned the right to be judged on his own merits, even if John Lennon remains an impressive hurdle for him to jump.
Of course, you can't help but think of John while listening to "Friendly Fire." You can hear the battered, almost nasal vocals reminiscent of Sean's father, and you can hear traces of John's song-writing influences as well. The first you can blame on DNA; the latter you can blame on The Beatles' enormous influence on music throughout the world. Who isn't influenced by The Beatles?
That said, "Friendly Fire" is a self-produced record dripping artistic craft and incredible arrangements. Sean's writing seems effortless, and his artistry is powerful enough to put an end to any charges that he is riding on the waves of daddy's yellow submarine. This record is genuinely smart and heartfelt all at once.
I don't know every crack and crevice regarding the story behind the record, but I have read a few tidbits that might shed light. The aptly named record was written about the love affair of Sean's now ex-girlfriend, Bijou Phillips (daughter of John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas), and his lifelong friend, Max Leroy. Before a reconciliation could take shape, Leroy was killed in a motorcycle accident. The energy of this love and loss will pluck your heartstrings in perfect patterns, and it shows how far Sean has come. While his first release, "Into the Sun" (Grand Royal / Capitol) was smart, it did not show the same emotional range—to say nothing of how Sean has grown in terms of song craft and album cohesiveness. Eight years of living, loving and losing later, Sean's song-writing abilities have evolved into something both fresh and familiar.
Lennon junior is not seeking the status of superstar. Recently, he stated that he "wants to make music for a small group of people." Fortunately for him, I am sure his wish will be fulfilled. Due to the state of music today, it seems like smart song writing means less exposure. While his family tree keeps him visible, Sean's talent and his unique style are not likely to take the world by storm. He chooses not to fight for the fame that The Beatles' attained, and who could? After all, they were more popular than Jesus, right? It goes without saying that Sean knows the perils of fame.
If you like music at all, buy this record. I promise you will enjoy it. I do solemnly swear that he sounds nothing like Julian. Plus, as an added bonus, the record comes with a surprise cover by Tyrannosaurus Rex era T. Rex and a DVD that contains a video for every tune. Astonishingly, his cheating ex was called on for acting duties in a few of these musical dramas, acting alongside Lennon himself. You will not be disappointed with this well-executed package. You might even hug it and take naps with it. You could possibly end up kissing it. I asked it to marry me.