There is little on Julian Lennon's second album, "The Secret Value of Daydreaming" (Atlantic 7 81640-1-E), to inspire the comparisons with father John that colored most appraisals of his debut. Outside of the occasional catchy chorus and keening vocal line, there are no familial echoes here, which suggests that Julian is looking to be taken on his own terms.
Maybe he should have waited a little longer.
Although his first album, "Valotte," was produced by Phil Ramone (who's worked with Billy Joel, Paul Simon and others), although it sold some 2 million copies, although he did a sold-out concert tour (his first ever live performances, by the way), and although he projects an immensely likable personality, Julian Lennon is still a 23-year-old neophyte musician who simply wouldn't have had such grand opportunities -- or results -- absent the family name and, one supposes, everyone's fervid hope that genius is hereditary. It may be, but Julian's not the proof, at least not yet.
Actually, he's in a no-win situation. One the one hand, he hasn't paid his musical dues, though he's paid plenty of emotional ones. On the other, there was no way he could ever develop his own voice with any sort of privacy. Talk about carrying that weight! Little wonder Julian's awkwardness and discomfort seem genuine.
While this excused the dearth of presence on "Valotte," however, it can't do the same for "Daydreaming," which lacks excitement or immediacy. Oddly enough, that makes it perfect AOR fare.
It's not just the voice or the mannerisms that increase the distance between father and son on this album. Who would have thought John Lennon's son would be writing silly love songs? John had his moments of maudlin pop sentimentality, of course, particularly in the year before his death, but Julian seems to inhabit a similar attitude with a different purpose. Immaculately produced, sonically detailed, his songs are nonetheless vapid, slight, sabotaged by lyrics that are all too often clumsy or obtuse.
Part of the fault may lie with Ramone, whose production is as busy as it is detailed. On much of "Daydreaming" he simply overwhelms Lennon, as if he doesn't trust him. On the grinding semifunk rocker "Stick Around," Julian sounds like a guest vocalist on a Mannheim Steamroller project; on "You Get What You Want," he seems to hang on for dear life to a melody propelled by guest Billy Joel's explosive piano.
On the vaguely martial "Coward Till the End?" and "You Don't Have to Tell Me," Julian slides into the edgy pop gloss of Culture Club, sounding much more like Boy George than his father. He barely negotiates the choppy rhythmic structure of "I've Seen Your Face," and when left alone, as on the sappy "I Want Your Body," he comes across as a young, multi-tracked Barry Manilow.
It's not that "Daydreaming" is a terrible album; it's simply not a very good one. It slips by, a collection of small moments: the chorus of "Everyday," which is both rootsy rock and paternal echo; "This Is My Day" and "Always Think Twice," with their wistful melodies. Unfortunately, these moments are surprisingly few. On "Let Me Tell You," a languid slice of pseudo-reggae, Julian sings "Some things are private but I'll give you a clue" -- but the tease is never fulfilled.
Julian's first concert go-round is documented in a new long-form video, "Stand By Me" (Vestron 80276, VHS and Beta). Early on he says one reason for making the video and answering some questions is "so I can just get on with my own life and write my own songs." Unfortunately director Martin Levine is a bit sycophantic and what he ends up with is a grade-B "Hard Day's Night," with all too many shots of Julian and band rehearsing and clowning around, performing in concert, getting in and out of vans, waiting backstage, reading morning-after reviews at the hotel.
In the 55-minute film (edited with the idea that viewers are not entitled to hear any one number in its entirety) there are haunting echoes of John in Julian's songs, singing and manner, so one might have expected more clues about that relationship. What we get is a slow zoom-in on Julian's face as he talks about his father's death, but the moment is brief and not at all revealing and after an hour, you'd be hard-pressed to say you knew anything much about Julian Lennon. On stage, Julian is ungainly, awkward and visibly nervous. You feel for for him in a way you don't feel for most rock performers.
In a coincidence of timing, "Daydreaming" and "Stand By Me" follow the recent release of a video and an album documenting John Lennon's last concert performances in August of 1972. "Live in New York City" (Capitol SV12451) is a fascinating portrait of an artist whose grasp was not always equal to his reach. Much of the music heard here is music that brought Lennon respect, but outside of "Imagine," "Instant Karma" and "Give Peace a Chance," it's not what the masses loved him for.
Judging from the concert video (Sony 168, VHS and Beta, 58 minutes), nervousness ran in the Lennon family. John was reportedly petrified about performing live and spent months rehearsing for these two Madison Square Garden benefit concerts; at one point he tells the audience, "Welcome to the rehearsal." In fact these would be the first and last concerts John and Yoko did with a rehearsed band, a fusion of Elephant's Memory and the Plastic Ono Band.
There were a lot of crosscurrents under the concert: Lennon's most recent album, the politically explicit "Sometimes in New York City," had been poorly received; he was being hounded by immigration authorities; his relationships with radical chic and avant-garde art elements were embroiling him further in controversy. Little wonder, then, that Lennon looks preoccupied, chewing gum, seldom smiling, trying to hold himself together in any way he can. "Sometimes I feel like I'm going down," he sings on "It's So Hard," adding, "But when it's good, it's good."
The Lennon we hear is not at all the supple Beatle, but the raucous rock 'n' roller and the social critic of "Woman Is the Nigger of the World" and "Cold Turkey." There's a fire in his singing that recalls the Cavern days in Liverpool. Yoko Ono is on hand, as well, tinkling the keyboards, sort-of-singing "Sisters O Sisters" and "Born in a Prison" (these cuts are absent from the record version).
The concerts were ragged, but that's just fine: Most of these songs demanded that edge. The autobiographical "New York City" sounds like "Get Back" on speed, and the only Beatles diversion, "Come Together," is sloppy drunk. "Imagine," which would take on greater meaning after Lennon's death in 1980, is straightforward, with a sly line change: "Imagine all possessions/I wonder if we can." However, the cathartic "Mother" remains a harrowing listening experience, particularly the upward-gliding primal scream in the chorus; watching Lennon perform it gives the song even more weight than it needs.
After the optimism of "Imagine," there's also the sad prophecy of "Instant Karma." Lennon prefaces it by saying, "I'm really just beginning to understand what this record was all about." Later he sings, "You better start to get yourself together/Pretty soon you're going to be dead," and at the song's end, he says, "We'll get it right next time."
There would be no next time. For eight more years, John Lennon would shine on privately. His music continues to do that today.