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*** Julian Lennon, "Photograph Smile," Fuel 2000/Universal

March 05, 1999|ELYSA GARDNER

Being the son of a rock legend initially proved a double-edged sword for Julian Lennon. After releasing an impressive first album, 1984's "Valotte," the singer seemed thwarted by the intense pressure and scrutiny imposed by his famous surname, and he lost creative focus.

But that was then. Now 35, Lennon has returned from a seven-year recording hiatus with an album that fulfills the promise of "Valotte" and reflects his increasing comfort with his irrevocable connection to pop history.

In the past, Lennon appeared wary of emphasizing how much his nasal, haunting voice echoed you-know-who, but here he embraces his father's legacy, fitting warm but stringent melodies and lyrics into often unabashedly Beatles-esque arrangements. "I Don't Wanna Know" captures the exuberant energy of the Fab Four's early pop gems, while more baroque, emotionally complex songs such as "Day After Day" and "Crucified" evoke the band's later, more adventurous work.

Interestingly, ballads such as "Cold" and "I Should Have Known" have a melancholy but ultimately transcendent sweetness that suggests Paul McCartney's specific influence more than John's. Clearly, this second-generation troubadour has learned to take a sad song and make it better.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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