Friendly Fire Label: Capitol
Unlike with a crucial social dividing line such as, say, whether you’re a Beatles man or a Stones man, there aren’t many skirmishes over which of John Lennon’s sons you prefer…which is to say that it’s not too often you hear someone threatening to end a relationship because it’s impossible to like Julian or Sean equally. Thing is, nowadays, most people don’t have much of an opinion of either of them. Julian hasn’t had a hit single since his 1989 Bowie soundalike “Now You’re in Heaven” (although, for the record, his most recent album, 1998’s Photograph Smile, was actually the best of his career), and Sean…well, if you didn’t know Sean even had a recording career, you’re not the only one.
In fact, Sean released his debut solo album, Into the Sun, in 1998. While it had some likeable moments, it debuted in the lower half of the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart before making a hasty departure…and, to be brutally honest, one has to presume that it only earned that high a placing because, well, he’s John Lennon’s son.
Actually, that’s not being brutally honest; that’s just my tepid attempt at being brutally honest. I’m too fucking nice, that’s my problem. (It’s true; everybody says so.) But, y’know, if I’m at least trying to be brutally honest about the guy, I might as well lay it on the line and say that when it comes to Sean Lennon’s recording career, for all the songwriting genetics he’s got working for him, he still can’t overcome one card he’s been dealt: an extremely thin and weedy voice.
And it’s true: I really am sorry…because if it wasn’t for his voice, Friendly Fire might well have made it into my Best of 2006 list. Musically, it’s a wonderful pop album. Lennon’s left all the artsy experimentation of his debut behind (he’s saved that for the 52-minute DVD that accompanies this album, where he provides a cinematic vision for most of the songs) and has made an attempt at doing something that his father as well as his former songwriting partner would both have been proud of. It’s clear that whatever time during the eight-year void between albums Lennon didn’t spend the last eight years writing and recording new music, he clearly spent listening to Jon Brion…and you’d think that even if you didn’t know that Brion makes an appearance on the third song. That’s because the second song – “Wait for Me” – sounds so much like an outtake from Brion’s Meaningless that you’ll need to check the songwriting credits.
Lyrically, it’s a sad, sad album, based on various experiences Lennon has endured over the past several years: his girlfriend slept with his best friend, both relationships ended, and the friend died in a motorcycle accident before things could be patched up between the two of them. The music, however, is filled with lovely melodies that are easy to get lost in at times…but sooner or later, a lyric will jump out at you, you notice Lennon’s voice again, and you think, “Man, if only he had a little more ‘umph’ to his delivery, this album would be awesome!”
But since he doesn’t, it’s only pretty good.