red lights


Not far [enough] from the tree

Sean Lennon - Friendly Fire
(Capitol Records)
2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Sept. 3, 2006
Sean Lennon

Review by Tony Bonyata

Being a child of the rich and famous is never easy. Making a name for yourself in the same business as your famous parent(s) is even harder. And when your mom and dad happen to be John Lennon and Yoko Ono it would seem impossible to not only shake the inevitable comparisons but to also emerge as an artist in your own right.

Unlike his older half-brother, Julian Lennon, who had minor success in the mid-'80s with a string of hits from his debut album Valotte which mimicked his famous father's musical stylings, Sean Lennon instead began his career in the '90s collaborating with more unconventional artists, such as the New York-based Japanese trip-hop rock duo Cibo Matto as well as the heavy metal band Soulfly. He eventually pricked the ears of Beastie Boys' Adam Yaunch, who got Sean signed to the Beastie's Grand Royal Records label for his 1998 debut album Into The Sun.

Fast-forward eight years: Grand Royal has folded and Sean Lennon has finally released his sophomore album Friendly Fire - now on his late father's Capitol Records imprint. While the album continues in the singer/songwriter mode of his debut release, Sean has now fully embraced his father's vocal phrasings and melodies, as witnessed on opening track "Dead Meat"and one the album's strongest tracks "Would I Be The One."

Unfortunately, however, it's when Sean tries to tap into the melodic magic of his father's past when things also start to go awry. Grasping for Beatles-esque melodies, Sean turns the pop-laced "Parachute" into schmaltzy AOR pap, complete with saccharine harmonies and his own wispy vocals. "Spectacle" is as pleasant as it is ultimately forgettable, and the obligatory hand-claps of "Headlights" crowds an otherwise interesting indie-pop ditty. When he isn't foraging through his father's sheet music for ideas, he rips a page from the Great American Songbook with his own smoky, yet sleepy standard "Tomorrow." Lennon does manage to get on track, as proved on the introspective, simple beauty of the title song and the quirky, almost surreal production and haunting melody that hovers over "Would I Be The One," but unfortunately, with songs often overwrought with heavy-handed arrangements and the forced songcraft of Lennon-McCartney, it's not enough for him to emerge from the shadows of his famous father.

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