It can’t be easy being Sean Lennon. While his surname must be a door-opener like no other, it’s surely also a super-strength millstone around his neck. By entering into music, it’s inevitable that he will be seen as the successor to his father (his brother Julian’s five-album career notwithstanding), and with the stakes as high as they are, it’s as though he has to be actually better than his father to be considered any good at all.
It’s not just the fact that Sean is the son of a musician — after all, his friends Rufus and Martha Wainright don’t have the same sort of trouble being the children of folk singer Loudon Wainright III — rather it’s the fact that his father was one of the most famous men who ever lived, and one who will remain so for as long as people listen to popular music and care about peace in the world. That’s some weight to carry.
In terms of his own brand of popular music, Sean is fortunate in that he has no need to rely on John’s past glories. His self-penned songs easily succeed on their own merits. Expertly crafted, bittersweet and wholly memorable, his songwriting more than does justice to the family name.
His latest album, Friendly Fire, testifies to this. Each of its 10 tracks boasts a marvellously constructed melody, bolstered by evocative, thought-provoking lyrics and superbly accomplished guitar playing. In some ways, he is actually better than his father. Technically speaking, it is hard to disagree that his instrumental prowess exceeds anything that John, the self-confessed lazy guitarist, ever committed to tape, for instance. But such comparisons won’t actually get him very far and are best avoided.
For the most part, the critical reaction to Friendly Fire has been positive, with some overwhelmingly enthusiastic reviews coming from important tastemakers such as the British magazines Mojo and the New Musical Express (NME). Sean Lennon is paying his dues, too, having undertaken an extensive tour of small club venues to promote his album. Catch him live if you can. On CD, his songs are very strong indeed, but when given the space to breath on stage they benefit enormously from being delivered in-the-flesh by that winning Lennon persona, combining confidence with vulnerability, and their impact is quite extraordinary in the truest sense of the word.
by Andrew Davis