Jude takes a sad song and makes it better 

 After eight years away, Julian Lennon returns, 
reconciled with his past and with his best album yet. 

March 14, 1999 - By BEN WENER The Orange County Register 

Photograph Smile

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It was inevitable, probably in every conceivable way. John Lennon may have sung about changing the world, but changing fate? Not likely.

Yet for son Julian that's exactly what's happening. It was inevitable, for instance, that he would gravitate toward music in the first place. It was inevitable, too, that his career would suffer in comparison to his legendary father's, a matter made more burdensome for the singer-songwriter given his eerie vocal resemblance.

It also was fairly predictable that once Julian had made his splashy debut with the best-selling "Valotte" only a few years after his father's murder, he then would be run through the meat grinder that is the music industry. The Beatlemaniacs and money-hungry producers were equally eager for him to carry on the family name.

Once that happened - and it did, fast and cruelly - it's no big leap to figure that much of Julian's three subsequent albums were, by his own admission, dreck. (Most of what he had to say about his sophomore release, "The Secret Value of Daydreaming," is unprintable.)

That explains Julian's self-imposed exile from pop music throughout much of the '90s. These days, though his wounds have healed well, they're not hard to find. Ask him the cliche where-ya-been question and he's off and rolling.

"After being on the same treadmill for more than 10 years, and not having control and being too shy to stand up and say, 'No, I'm not doing that,' and the lack of support and broken promises from virtually everyone - look, I was (ticked) off and frustrated. The motivation was gone. The fun had gone out of it, and that's not what should happen in music," said Lennon, 35. "I had had enough."

But he's a Lennon. So of course it was inevitable that he wouldn't be able to drain the music from his blood.

And naturally, it was inevitable that "Photograph Smile" - his first album in eight years and the one Julian calls "my first, really, my baby" - would sound more like his father's (and his somewhat famous band mates') work than ever.

COMPARISONS CONTINUE

Take the opening "Day After Day," which combines John's introspection with George's spirituality and sense of melody and Paul's skill for sweet arrangement and production. The song's first verse, in fact, sung over faint piano and acoustic guitar, speaks volumes about Julian's coming to terms with his troubled past (with his father, his family, his career) and his reverence for his musical forebears:

I have walked through the fire
As an ordinary man
And if I die, I'll die in peace
Part of all that God has planned
'Cause I believe in you
And the best is yet to come
You've been alone, it's true
Daddy's work is never done

Better yet, dig the infectious strains of the first single, "I Don't Wanna Know": a lone guitar chord rings out (a la "A Hard Day's Night"), then comes an unmistakably John-like sneer over the title lyric, which gives way to several distinctly "Rubber Soul"-era verses.

"Yeah, that one was done very tongue in cheek," Julian admitted, somewhat bemused. "That one is for the full-blown Beatle fanatics and Dad's fanatics, who have been waiting for me to do this sort of thing for ages."

But it's not just that song. The ruminative "Cold" and "I Should Have Known," for instance, would have worked perfectly on John's "Walls and Bridges"; "And She Cries" is the best George song since "Cloud Nine"; and the bridge of the closing "Way to Your Heart" is a direct lift from (and possibly an homage to) "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

Meanwhile, Paul's gift for stylistic adaptability and buoyant melody is everywhere, whether in darker moments (the string-laden title track or "Crucified," written for the late Kevin Gilbert, Julian's friend and former Toy Matinee leader) or in sprightly ones ("Kiss Beyond the Catcher," written for Julian's mother, Cynthia).

"I've always been more influenced by Paul," Julian said of the man who wrote "Hey Jude" to cheer up a young Jules and who remembers to send a birthday card every year without fail. "He was the melodic, gentle one, and I've always been more interested in that than the more raw vocal aspects."

Still, these sorts of comparisons used to drive Julian crazy. Now, he finds them heartening.

"The comparisons, oh, God, the comparisons ... all the time," he began, thinking about the past. "Those comparisons were outrageous. The thought that one of my albums would be up against the whole of the Beatles catalog is just insane. And the fanatics won't allow you to be your own person. They won't ever accept that what anyone else does could be equal in some way, because it would destroy the image they've created of their gods.

"At the time, it was impossible to find what I wanted to do with that hanging over me. ... Back then, I didn't know who I was at all, and having to figure it out publicly was tremendously difficult. I had to deal with those walls in my past. To me, my issues have been resolved, and those comparisons don't matter anymore. They can keep coming until the cows come home, and they're not inaccurate, but it doesn't change what I do."

In other words, if anyone should be derivative of the Beatles (and virtually everyone has been, at some point), who better than the guy with the birthright?

BECOMING HIS OWN ARTIST

Still, living in the shadow of John wasn't the biggest reason Julian took an extended leave of absence. He says it had more to do with not being allowed to make the music he wanted.

After a period of legal wrangling, during which Julian refused to record anything for fear it would be released against his wishes, the artist decided to take time for himself. Travel. Think. Breathe.

"It was the first time in my adult life that I'd actually had time to sit down and reflect, look at the journey and figure out what I truly wanted to do," he recalled. "I literally stopped writing for a few years and truly enjoyed life for a change. It was the most freeing thing that happened, and it allowed me to find out who I am as a person outside of the music industry, because I had spent my life being controlled like a puppet.

"And I realized that, yes, I wanted to do music, but I certainly wasn't going to sell my soul to the devil to do it."

Now, Julian feels like he's in control for the first time. He has launched his own independent label, Pinnacle, which has issued "Photograph Smile" worldwide. (It was delayed here in the States, where it was distributed by Fuel 200/Universal, for close to a year. Julian says that's not because of rumors that he didn't want it to compete with half-brother Sean's debut, "Into the Sun," but because as a small operation, "We wanted to concentrate our efforts, first in Europe and Australia and then in America.")

He also has opted not to tour right away, in favor of making high-profile promotional appearances such as "The Tonight Show." He's donating much of his time to charity organizations and says he's planning a few benefit performances.

And he sounds revitalized, very much like a man at peace with himself - a man who has come to terms with who he is and his family name.

"There is great peace and balance in my life now, yes," he agreed. "I mean, I have to say that the workload is a lot more now than it ever was before, because I'm overseeing everything. But at least now when I wake up in the morning I'm not going to stab myself over anything that's going wrong. I'm just going to work damn hard for it.

"See, everything has its place now. Music is still very important, but whereas before it was 100 percent, now it has its place among everything in my life."

Inner peace and great reviews. Little Julian, happy at last?

"I'm getting there, let me tell you."