Saturday, July 2, 2011

Nik's Unheralded Albums #6: Julian Lennon, "Mr. Jordan."

I do feel bad for the children of rock stars. Never mind all the lunacy involved around growing up being Keith Richards Jr or whomever, but then there’s the impossible expectations that come if you decide to follow in their footsteps. The music world is littered with Frank Sinatra Juniors, Jakob Dylans and so forth.

One kind-of-success was John Lennon’s oldest son Julian Lennon. He had a few minor hits back in the mid-1980s, then sank from sight. His first two albums were what I'd call perfectly pleasant pop -- with their biggest attraction Julian's startling similarity to his late father's voice. But only so much can be done with nostalgia, so Julian Lennon never quite rose above one-hit wonder status with his single "Too Late For Goodbyes."
Yet Lennon Jr. continued plugging away, and surprised with his third album, 1989's "Mr. Jordan," a more sonically adventurous little gem – the kind of pop that’s often called “Beatles-esque” which here at least can be traced partly to genetics. I’d say it’s the highlight of Julian’s brief recording career, with a self-assurance that his earlier work lacked.  The mellow singer-songwriter vibe has been replaced by a grittier, more experimental sound that really works well.

The very first track of "Mr. Jordan" announces that we're moving on from John Lennon to David Bowie as an influence, with Julian boasting a deeper, sturdier singing voice than before, more willing to expand his range. "Now You're In Heaven" pulses with a strong beat and crunchy guitar riffs, sounding like a lost single from Bowie's "Lodger." "Open Your Eyes" bounces along on a very '80s Human League keyboard line, mashed together with a dash of "Tomorrow Never Knows" swirl. "Angillette" is a sweeping ballad that does echo "Mind Games"-era Lennon, but is tinted with Julian's own distinctive ache. With "Get Up," Lennon reaches further back into rock history with a loose-limbed rockabilly pastiche. Everything-and-the-kitchen sink album closer "I Want You To Know" is a psychedelic romp that piles on the soundscapes (at one point Lennon sounds like he's singing while marching underwater). "Mr. Jordan" is a magpie of an album, with Julian trying on a variety of musical hats, some of which fit better than others. His willingness to experiment is bracing and he sounds far more free than he did in his earlier work. But after a couple more albums, that was it for Julian's music endeavors.
Lennon seems to have given up the music biz, and I can’t say I blame him – it rarely turns out well for pop kids. But over his brief heyday he delivered some material that moved well out of his father's shadow. (The music of his half-brother Sean, whose own hipster-ish solo records got a bit of hype in the 1990s, has aged far less well to me.) While Julian Lennon can't ever hope to entirely get past that formidable father figure, "Mr. Jordan" shows he had a voice of his own.

"Now You're In Heaven" video:

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:07 PM

    Frank Sinatra Junior finally decided it was time to use his vocal similarity to his old man and has carved himself out a successful career touring with big band singing his father's hits, not to mention giving behind the scenes info on the background of how some of those songs came to be "Sinatra".
    He has two wonderful albums , "As I Remember It" (redoing songs of his Dad's, along with commentary...) and an album of big band numbers called "That Face!".