As the son of Dr Winston O’Boogie himself, Sean Lennon has been destined for a lifelong immersion in music pretty much since his 1975 birth in New York to Yoko Ono and a Liverpudlian called John. But just as Nigel Clough’s Sheffield United will never rival Brian’s Nottingham Forest, in the 16 years since Sean’s debut ‘Into The Sun’ hit the shelves, you might have noticed that there has been not a whisper of a second coming of the Beatles, or any real mainstream recognition that the talent which coursed through every fibre of John’s being had found its way to his offspring. While ‘Midnight Sun’ is in no danger of eclipsing ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, it is a glowing example of just how wrong we’ve been to overlook Lennon Jr.…
The fact is that whatever Sean, or indeed his older half-brother Julian, achieve will pale into a pool of squalid, derivative worse-than-garbage in comparison to their father’s output in the eyes of a fickle musical public who just love to shoot down easy targets like them, probably without even listening to the music. The unfavourable reception given somewhat unjustly to ‘Into The Sun’ compelled Sean Lennon to keep his head down for a few years. But on ‘Midnight Sun’, the latest offering from Lennon’s collaboration with long-term partner Charlotte Kemp Muhl The Ghost of a Saber ToothTiger, Sean’s musical heritage is writ large. A visceral psychedelic rock album, the paternal influence is finally fully embraced, finding itself channelled alongside sonic references to the likes of Tame Impala into a 21st-Century force to be reckoned with.
Sean’s most direct release to date opens with the raucous psychadelia of ‘Too Deep’, which is fabulously reprised in Beatletastic earworm and album highlight ‘Animals’, a truly infectious kaleidoscope of pure musical ambrosia. Driving rhythms persist on the bass-led and effortlessly groovy title track, and are taken to the outer realms of rational consciousness on the spacey ‘Xanadu’. And there the GOASTT are very happy to stay, ‘Last Call’ easing along like a cinematic Hawaiian dream, with the interplay between Lennon and Kemp Muhl reaching its zenith through rapturously impenetrable lyrics. The record closes with a brace of mind-expanding progressive jams, kicking off with the gently pipe- and harp-inflected ‘Don’t Look Back Orpheus’ before easing into the almost seven-minute long ‘Moth To A Flame’, an unhurried maelstrom of swirling instruments and rolling drum fills. If you stick out your tongue, you can almost taste 1967.
Elsewhere, the duo sway between these distinct sounds, a thin layer of space-dust coating the gentle CKM-led ‘Johannesburg’ and settling also on the unfeasibly catchy chorus of ‘Great Expectations’. A ring-modulator and vocal tremolo respectively ensure things don’t get too normal here, while a synth wig-out halfway through ‘Poor Paul Getty’ brings an unsubtle experimentalism to what sounds essentially like a good-time, mid-tempo Beatles offcut. Please note, this is absolutely no bad thing. ‘Devil You Know’ sweeps from mesmeric verses to expansive choruses, taking a slightly moodier approach which, depending on your perspective, takes the album in a fresh direction or sits at odds to the rest of its contents. But levelling criticism at the duo for testing new waters would be to miss the point entirely, and it is for this reason that the blues-tinged ‘Golden Earrings’ also sits comfortably on the record, despite initial differences.
It is obviously spectacularly unfair to judge ‘Midnight Sun’ against the Beatles, but equally it is impossible to ignore the influence, consciously realised or not, of Lennon Sr. and his band on every musical endeavour embarked upon by his youngest son. But on this album the GOASTT have transcended the petty and frankly irrelevant debate which has dogged every turn of one half of its creative force’s whole career, delivering an irresistible slice of psychedelia-infused rock music which perfectly marries the past and the present. It may have taken him a while, but Sean Lennon has finally found his niche – long may he remain there.
Words - Joe Ponting
'Midnight Sun' was released earlier this year. Buy here