I feel like one of the most shocking statements I've ever said is "You know who's really underrated? Sean Lennon!" This isn't shocking because Sean Lennon is overrated or because he doesn't deserve to be given accolades. To see the looks on my friends and colleagues faces, however, when I proclaim that the youngest Lennon is, in fact, a talent, you'd think I'd just told a the Pope, "You know who's really underrated? Satan!"
It's easy to dismiss the career of Sean Lennon, much as it was easy in the mid-90's to ignore the alternative rock of The Wallflowers due to the inclusion of Jakob Dylan. A progeny of someone as prolific as Bob Dylan or John Lennon, after all, has no possible way to live up to the legacy of their parents. Granted in recent years, Lennon has gotten more press for his presence during some grade A antics than his music (Those pictures of Vanessa Manillo and Lindsay Lohan holding knives to each other? Taken at Sean Lennon's digs!) but what Lennon did on his last official release, 2006's Friendly Fire, lead to Lennon producing one of the most criminally unlistened to albums of the year.
From the opening notes of "Dead Meat", a track starting with lilting piano that's later joined by strings and layered vocals that paint a dreamy picture of - fittingly enough - lush, Beatles-esque pop, it's glaringly obvious that Lennon is his father's son and he will not spend his time playing pretend, dressing up in the clothes of some rock star so unlike his ancestoral predessor, perhaps even downplaying the relation like Jakob Dylan did at the height of The Wallflowers's success. More than recalling The Beatles, however, Lennon recalls artists that weren't influenced by his father. Shades of Jon Brion and Elliott Smith are many, with the precise guitar of "Parachute" recalling a more upbeat version of Brion's "Hook, Line, And Sinker" and "Wait For Me" sounding as though Smith were attempting to compose his own version of one of his favorite Beatles tunes, the oft-covered by Smith "I'm Only Sleeping".
I feel as if it weren't for the strength of "Wait For Me", album opener "Dead Meat" would be Friendly Fire's stand out tune. "Wait For Me", however, has found itself becoming one of my favorite songs of all time. It's a simple pop song, yes. The chords are so simple that I managed to learn to play the song by ear. There's little lyrical substance but each line, no matter how forced its rhyme, has the type of vague relatability that anyone can find meaning or comfort in. "Wait For Me" is the best pop song that no one's heard. I remember driving home from work back in '06, when Lennon's sophomore release first came out, and first taking note of "Wait For Me". I ended up taking the long way home, circling the lake of the small town I lived in twice before turning towards my house, just so I could listen to "Wait For Me" again. It was as if the song were a composition from the guy I'd fall in love with one day, telling me that he was waiting and he hoped I would be too. Maybe it's ridiculous thoughts like this that keep my single. Or maybe "Wait For Me" is just that perfect.
While I stand by my belief of Jon Brion being the best pop composure of my lifetime, I believe Lennon to be a close second. If Lennon doesn't know how to masterfully craft an appealing pop song, Friendly Fire is full of happy accidents, with Lennon simply stumbling upon the formula for the "perfect tune" time and time again. It's clear that he loves grandeur and spares no expense in orchestrating his songs as lushly as possible. Where a lesser musician might be buried underneath the sheer amount of elements he's surrounded himself with (As Smith occasionally was on Figure 8), the appeal of Lennon's songwriting only shines more. Backed by the '50's style production on "Tomorrow", the song is less a sadsack ballad than it is a heartbreaking torch song worthy of any musical or American Idol contestant. To say I can't imagine Kelly Clarkson belting "Tomorrow" on stage is a bold faced lie and quite frankly, I would love to see Lennon get the attention that an opportunity like that would give him. Plus, the building bridge of the tune ("I promise to stop dreamin' 'bout you, promise to stop waiting for your calls, becuase I don't want to care at all") is just begging to become a ballad belted out by a fabulous songstress as heartsick girls everywhere cry their eyes out.
Elsewhere, "On Again, Off Again" builds to a lovely chorus that finds Lennon echoing his own vocals as he confesses "If I can't hold you, somebody will", once again recalling Smith's more ambitious undertakings. The album's title track proves that Lennon is at his best when he's exploring the darker side of his music. While Friendly Fire is an amazing pop record, it's title track would make the perfect song to score a film's murder scene, just as it has made the perfect soundtrack for many of my life's darker nights, spent reflecting on another mess I've made of things for whatever reason.
It's a shame that Friendly Fire isn't a little known, beloved classic of modern times, much like any album by Smith or Brion is. Is it a John Lennon album? No, not even close. But it's a Sean Lennon album. And that's almost as good.