Lennon channels Lennon 

Portland, Oregon's Oregonian Paper
Friday, January 8th, 1999

Photograph Smile

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Julian still sounds a lot like Dad, but he's found strength and individuality

By Kyle O'Brien of The Oregonian staff

Julian Lennon disappeared from the airwaves seven years ago (funny, it seems longer than that) after a moderate amount of success trying to emulate his father, the late John Lennon. 

Now, after seven years of reflecting "on his place in the world," according to his press people -- read music business burnout, a bad breakup and poor financial guidance -- John Lennon's first son is back, channeling his father's sound and voice with his latest release, "Photograph Smile," which arrives in stores in February. 

Half-brother Sean has followed the more eclectic musical muse of his mother, Yoko Ono. Julian's sound, however, always has been closer to John's, be that for better or for worse, depending on the song. With "Photograph Smile," Lennon comes off surprisingly sincere and refined. Seven years off seem to have done him some good. 

Lennon makes a nod to the early Beatles with the upbeat, soon-to-be-adult-contemporary-radio-rotation-track "I Don't Wanna Know," which finds Julian's voice as John-like as it's ever been. A very catchy, melodic chorus and Beatles-ish harmonies are propelled by a tambourine-tempered, Ringo-style beat. 

At 35, Lennon seems much more comfortable being John's offspring than he did at 21, when he hit the airwaves with his single "Too Late for Goodbyes" off his debut album, "Valotte." Though his voice may never reach the level of emotion and wisdom of John's, Julian's range and depth have grown greatly, especially on sparse ballads like "Walls" and "I Should Have Known" where he can work both the lower and upper registers, even venturing into a strong falsetto. 

The years of disharmony in Lennon's life have seasoned him as a songwriter. The 14 songs on "Photograph Smile" are largely autobiographical, with his emotions laid bare. Lyrics of heartache, loss and longing are plenty present here, and the album weighs in more melancholy than evenhanded. Sometimes they dip into sappiness and self-pity. Luckily, strong production work by Lennon and producer Bob Rose is able to cover over some of those flaws. The opening track, "Day After Day," is a string-filled pop-rock ballad with a bridge that could easily have been lifted from the cutting room floor of the Sgt. Pepper's sessions. 

Like John, Julian experiments with world music and beats. "Crucified" borrows Middle Eastern modalities and Indian rhythms. The tune is dedicated not to John but to the late, brilliant songwriter Kevin Gilbert of Toy Matinee. Gilbert would have been pleased with both the sentiment and the crystal-clear production. 

Since he went through all the criticism of being John Lennon's musician-son back in the '80s, Julian now seems at home being the keeper of the Lennon legacy. The various tracks on "Photograph Smile" show a maturing, sensitive singer-songwriter, comfortable with his place in the music business, who just happens to be the son of one of rock's most important figures. As the lyrics in "Day After Day" hint: 

"I believe in you
and the best is yet to come, 
you've been alone, 
it's true, daddy's work 
is never done." 

PHOTOGRAPH SMILE
[3 out of 4 STARS]
Julian Lennon
Fuel 2000/Universal Music