Being a Beatle Kid is a decidedly double-edged sword. On the one hand, you start your musical career with name recognition the likes of which most artists—even the successful ones—can only dream of, giving you an instant audience. On the other hand, you stand perpetually in the shadow of the most popular, most influential, most beloved musicians of the twentieth century. Any success you achieve gets ascribed, prima facie, to your last name; and even then, you’re still not your dad, as every single reviewer is contractually obligated to point out.
When considering Sean Lennon’s band the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (GOASTT), then, it would be easy to just draw comparisons to his iconic father. After all, with its blend of dreamy psychedelia, garage rock, and ornate folk-pop, Midnight Sun (2014), the latest effort from Lennon and long-term partner Charlotte Kemp Muhl, plants itself firmly in the late 1960s – an era when the Beatles’ influence was omnipresent and inescapable. To the extent that Midnight Sun recalls John, however, it’s mostly in his son’s unmistakably Lennon-esque voice. But if Tame Impala or Temples had made this record, reviewers would be talking more about Syd Barrett than the Beatles, more about the classic Nuggets compilation than “Nowhere Man.”
What distinguishes GOASTT from Tame Impala and their ilk is that, rather than merely aping the past, they reinvigorate it. Lennon and Kemp Muhl trade the current obsession with self-consciously retro, lo-fi production for a rich analog sound, keeping the grainy warmth without sacrificing fidelity. The musical invention on display on Midnight Sun likewise eclipses that of GOASTT’s contemporaries. “Last Call” is perhaps the standout track, leaping from bouncy chamber pop to Floydian slide guitar space-outs in the space of a (rainbow) bridge. Only the even more Floydian “Moth to a Flame” (it sounds for all the world like a Meddle outtake) challenges it for the Album Highlight crown. But even shorter efforts such as the calliope-tinged “Don’t Look Back Orpheus” or the unsettlingly catchy “Great Expectations” are brimming with trippy flourishes and unexpected hooks.
It’s not hard to figure where Sean gets his knack for experimentation; after all, it’s not as if his parents recorded an album of avant-garde noise and plastered their naked selves all over its cover or anything. But while Yoko Ono was and remains a remarkable artist, in this reviewer’s opinion, her particular, peculiar brand of musical artistry never meshed all that well with John’s (see: Double Fantasy). Sean and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, on the other hand, are much more compatible on record. I’m tempted to attribute the crunchy psych passages to Sean and the airy chamber folk to Kemp Muhl, but that have more to do with their respective vocal timbres and preconceived gender roles than anything else. Either way, they gel remarkably well – far from Sean following in John’s footsteps (or Paul’s for that matter) and simply dragging his girlfriend into the studio to sing with him, it’s clear that GOASTT is a genuine creative partnership.
As you can see, like every other music writer on the planet—like a “Moth to a Flame,” if you will—I am inexorably drawn to comparisons with John. Perhaps it just comes with the territory, what with Sean being a Beatle Kid and all. But if he were a complete unknown, if GOASTT were just another New York band with an intriguing name, Midnight Sun would still deserve to be heard on its own merits as one of the finest records to emerge from the recent psych revival.
- Album Review: GOASTT – Midnight Sun (2014) (andrewdsweeney.wordpress.com)
- Just Saw Sean Ono Lennon’s band The GOASTT play in a record store (chuckdaly.wordpress.com)
- Album Review: The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, ‘Midnight Sun’ (ainhoaaristizabal.wordpress.com)
- Single review: The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger – Moth to a Flame (joshgill.wordpress.com)
- Interview: Sean Lennon of Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (www.digboston.com)
- Sean Lennon on his father, the Beatles, making music with his model girlfriend, and keeping his mother in check (www.telegraph.co.uk)