Sean Lennon

Friendly Fire

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Eight years is a long, long time between albums. It's a luxury few artists can afford -- either in terms of their career or in terms of their pocketbook -- but Sean Lennon is one who can, largely because he's the son of rock royalty, which ensures that he has the cash and public profile to take his time between projects. And he certainly did take his time after the release of his 1998 debut, Into the Sun, touring with Cibo Matto while he was dating their keyboardist, Yuka Honda, then just fading away into the New York socialite/artist scene after the turn of the millennium. He would pop up on-stage on occasion -- sometimes with Paul Simon's son Harper, sometimes with his mother, Yoko Ono, sometimes with Vincent Gallo -- but for the most part he kept a low profile (at least as far the rest of the U.S. outside of N.Y.C. was concerned) until 2006, when his sophomore effort, Friendly Fire, was finally released. More than anything, it sounds like a record that was made with no sense of urgency whatsoever. Its lazy cascade of gently plucked acoustic guitars, vaguely baroque keyboards, echoey guitars, breathy harmonies, and liberal borrowings from psychedelic Beatles and Beach Boys sounds as if its been mildly tinkered with over the years, a little bit added here, an overdub there, until it eventually was done. Sonically, it's not far removed from Into the Sun; it's only not as cheery in spirit as that debut, and Lennon explained the reason why in the publicity surrounding the release of Friendly Fire. The songs are inspired by a romantic catastrophe of his: his girlfriend slept with his best friend, thereby precipitating a breakup and a falling out, and the friend died in a motorcycle accident before Lennon could patch things up with him. Sad stuff, no doubt, and knowledge of the tale lends resonance to the album's title, yet the incessant repetition of the story in the press leaves a ghoulish aftertaste -- particularly since the incident happened years ago (also, knowing that the girlfriend was Bijou Phillips -- not exactly an innocent -- tends to undercut a reader's sympathy). But there's a reason that the story was repeated often: a listener needs to know the context if these songs are to have any emotional weight, since without that, Friendly Fire is merely a set of palely pretty, sort of sad, yet sort of sweet indie pop bathed in the glow of the '60s. It's pleasant enough, but it kind of fades away as it plays, partially because it's so thin and partially because Lennon has a thin, reedy voice that doesn't draw in listeners. Lennon might not be able to help his voice, but he could learn how to use it to his advantage, especially if he were making records a little more frequently, since he would develop chops. As it stands, his career is starting to seem like a rich kid's holiday, and Friendly Fire has the same feel as Into the Sun: namely, it's a pleasant but forgettable arty pop record made by a guy who has some promise but little discipline.

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