Sean Lennon and The Beatles Legacy

May 9, 2014


The progeny of Apple Corps Ltd. founders, The Beatles, are apples that evidently didn’t fall far from the tree. The sons have taken up their fathers' trade.  Of course, the weight of such an endeavor is almost too ridiculous to contemplate, with the Fab Four holding such a lofty place in the hearts and minds of the music-loving world.  With the 50th anniversary of the Beatles landing in the U.S. this year, and the release of Sean Lennon’s new project, let’s consider the work of the sons.

Julian Lennon was the first to emerge onto the pop stage with his 1984 album Valotte.   His voice and melodic sense were instantly reminiscent of John Lennon’s, and tracks from that record still sound good today.  However, Julian was unable to sustain that level of success, and even retired from the music business for several years. 

Zak Starkey, like Ringo, is a respected drummer, most notably with The Who, Oasis, Johnny Marr and Paul Weller.  Dhani Harrison worked on George Harrison’s final album Brainwashed, and formed the bands Thenewno2 and Fistful of Mercy.  The guitarist, songwriter and vocalist is self-effacing and unaffected , as befits the son of the “quiet Beatle.”

Interestingly, James McCartney debuted his songs right here in Iowa, at the 2009 David Lynch Weekend for World Peace and Meditation in Fairfield.  He then methodically released his engaging, fully-produced pop songs as two EPs, followed by his first full-length album in 2013. 

Sean Lennon grew up in New York, and by the mid-1990’s he was hanging with the boho crowd, playing bass with Cibo Matto and impressing the Beastie Boys enough to get signed to their very hip Grand Royal label.  In 1998 his meandering, amiable debut album Into the Sun was released.  One notices that the vocals are thin, lacking John Lennon’s Hamburg-honed power.  Then, as now, Sean was making music as art and self-expression, not necessarily just to have a career.  His next full-length album, Friendly Fire came out in 2006; a bit more fully-formed this time, but still amounting to not much more than lightweight indie pop.

He has composed film scores, collaborated with Greg Saunier (of Deerhoof) in the experimental duo Mystical Weapons, and worked with his mother Yoko Ono over the years, most recently as a member of the latest incarnation of the Plastic Ono Band.  Sean’s multi-instrumental (guitars, bass, piano, synths, percussion) fingerprints are all over Yoko’s fine late-2013 release, Take Me To The Land Of Hell, which he also co-produced.

The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger (or The GOASTT) is the duo Lennon formed with his girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl in 2008. The 2010 debut, Acoustic Sessions (co-written, produced and performed by Lennon and Muhl) features the same kind of whimsical, surreal songs as Lennon’s solo albums, but this time with some beautiful vocal harmonies. 

Now comes the new album from The GOASTT, Midnight Sun.  At last we get the unabashed psychedelia Lennon seems to have been heading for all along, invoking not only “I Am the Walrus” and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” but bringing Syd Barrett to mind as well.  To be sure, it’s mannered and polite psychedelia; the lyrics of the songs are still concerned with whimsy, puns and surreal imagery.  Sean Lennon brings his talents as multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, vocalist, producer and even cover illustrator to Midnight Sun.  The man’s an artist and he can carry that weight.