"Help Yourself" Review
By Parke Puterbaugh
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Somewhere along the way, Julian Lennon grew up. Help Yourself exhibits plenty of he charm of his previous work but little of its callow inconsistency. Instead, there's a surprising level of sophistication, reminiscent of David Bowie in some places and Lennon's late father in others. If you can divine clues from album titles, this one is particularly intriguing: Whereas John Lennon issued a cry for "Help!" Julian's remedy is Help Yourself. In his difficult position as heir apparent to one of roc's greatest legends, he's bravely dug inside - with a little help from his friends ad collaborators - to discover his own voice.
Help Yourself is a bit larger than life, blown up to cinemascopic proportions by Bob Ezrin's production and Lennon's willingness to embrace the implications of his own daunting inheritance. When he opens his voice to sing, what comes out as a product of both nature and nurture is, well, Beatlesque. Rather than downplaying or disguising that fact, Lennon unashamedly explores it on his fourth album. Thus, "Saltwater" opens with a keyboard figure reminiscent of "Strawberry Fields Forever"; the song's tearful idealism covers some of the same ground as "Imagine," but with a downcast ecological kicker: "I have lived for love/ But now that's not enough/ For the world I love is dying/ (And now I'm crying)." Distinct echoes of the trumpet fanfare from "Penny Lane" crop up in "Maybe I Was Wrong." "Listen" is as angry and driven as any of John's post-Beatles epistles to Paul and demonstrates the strides Julian has made as a vocalist. The title song is bouncy, Beatles worthy paean to self-improvement, featuring soaring falsetto vocals from Lennon and a splendid guitar hook.
The Lennon/Beatles legacy is but one side of Help Yourself, though. Producer Ezrin gives Lennon an unbounded field to play in, and he revels in the experimentalism of such songs as "Rebel King," "New Physics Rant" and "Keep the People Working." Anthony Moore, Lennon's lyric-writing collaborator on these and tow other songs, seems like a cross between a mad scientist-philosopher and a conspiracy-minded Marxist historian. Julian goes with the unconventional flow, especially on the demented "New Physics Rant," wherein he does Thomas Dolby one better in the blinded-me-with-science sweepstakes. By contrast, he and Moore are also responsible for the enchanting, dream-like "Would You," whose billowing vocal arrangement evokes the weightless sensation of sailing for six lovely minutes.
Lennon also collaborates with Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze (who co-wrote the edgy "Get A Life") and Paul Buchanan of the Blue Nile (who helped write and sing the forsaken ballad "Other Side of Town"). Though it embarks on varied tangents, the album does cohere, thanks to Ezrin's rich, detailed production and Lennon's consistent musicianship. Help Yourself runs the gamut from private confessions ("I'm scared of being lonely/And of dying without love," from "Take Me Home") to issues of global political intrigue. It's a big world that lies between those two extremes, but Julian Lennon grabs as much of it as he can on an album that will be remembered as a great leap forward for him.
© 1991 Rolling Stone Magazine
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