Julian Lennon dedicated his latest album, "Photograph Smile," to his late stepfather, but that's not the patriarch whose style echoes in such songs as "And She Cries" and "Cold." As he did when making hits in the mid-'80s, Julian sounds like John, sometimes eerily so. The principal difference is that the son sometimes composes music that's as sappy as anything produced by Dad's old partner; such tracks as "Way to Your Heart" and the title tune are simpering ballads whose string arrangements are poured on like pancake syrup.
Even those tunes aren't pure ersatz-McCartney: The melody of "Way to Your Heart" recalls "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," a song reportedly inspired by a pre-school-age Julian, and his father's voice can be heard in "Day After Day," a song that shares a title with a song by Welsh Beatles acolytes Badfinger. The latter band had a few hits too, but learned that this sort of Beatlemania pays diminishing returns. Julian has a right to his father's voice, but 15 years after "Valotte" he needs to find one of his own.
In the age of Swedish-engineered teeny-pop, the Push Stars sound a bit old-fashioned. But the Boston trio got a push from "There's Something About Mary," which featured "Everything Shines," one of the catchier songs on its major-label debut, "After the Party." The disc gives the Stars's power-pop a shot of roots-rock, exemplified by the brawling trombone of "Drunk Is Better Than Dead," the accordion of "Minnesota" and the steel guitar of "Cash."
Songwriter-guitarist Chris Trapper has gotten in touch with his inner Springsteen, as evidenced by both his gravelly voice and his junkyard-rhapsody lyrics, which celebrate "broken angels" and other people with "no ties, no past" who find "the pain is so sweet." "All we losers stand in a line just waiting for our time," he sings in "Everything Shines," and when his melodies are that vibrant its possible to imagine that 1999 could indeed be these retro-rockers' time.
Both appearing Monday at the Birchmere. To hear a free Sound Bite from Julian Lennon, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8105. For a free Sound Bite from the Push Stars, press 8106. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)