Friendly Fire (Capitol)
by Tim Den
There will be no unnecessary or unfair comparisons made in this review, because – as he has already proven with his debut, Into the Sun – Sean Lennon is an extremely talented songwriter in his own right whose material stands on its own, regardless of his genes. Friendly Fire, if anything, only strengthens that fact and demonstrates Lennon’s continuing growth as a tunesmith, offering 10 heartbreakingly understated (but no less emotionally-ridden) classic pop songs that will undoubtedly end up in my year end best-of list.
A much more cohesive effort than its predecessor – understandably, since it’s been eight years since Into the Sun – Friendly Fire makes use of the album’s central theme (love/love loss) brilliantly as it tries to piece together the remnants of what once was. Was it worth all the struggles, compromises, defeats, and disillusionment? Of course: How else do you get to taste life’s highest of highs and lowest of lows? On songs like “Dead Meat” and “Parachute,” Lennon’s restrained hooks are pregnant with such drama without ever having to be melodramatic, conveying a post-ecstasy sense of forlorn in mellow sleepiness that reeks as much of (what else?) love as it does love loss. The melodies wind and hug at all the right turns, as if they were created to accompany the cracks gathered by your heart as you traverse through one great love (and one great break up) after another. This is the soundtrack to both the happiest and loneliest moments of your romantic life, and it will make you yearn for both “the one” and, perhaps, losing “the one” just so you can sing along with a sunken soul. The best compliment a pop song can ever dream of receiving? You bet your ass.
And the best part is that Friendly Fire only gets better with repeatedly plays. While the aforementioned “Dead Meat” and “Parachute” will earn your puppy eyes immediately, the rest of the record sinks in with time to slowly reveal itself to you. Before you know it, the seemingly unassuming hooks of “Wait For Me” and “Falling Out of Love” will echo in your dreams, right next to the heavenly refrains of “Tomorrow” and “On Again Off Again.” So much so that you’ll even wish the Marc Bolan cover “Would I Be the One” had been left off the running order to make room for another original. As long as it doesn’t take Lennon another eight years to give us more originals, I’m okay with a cover here and there.
Special editions of the album comes with a DVD containing a 52-minute short film composed of sometimes-funny, sometimes-sad, often-absurd clips set to each of the album’s tracks, not so much trying to narrate a story but rather to play around with related visuals. There are circus entertainers, early ’80s roller rink hijinks, fencing Conquistadores, mermaids, Gravitron (remember the ride?), animated aliens, and, of course, tales of heartbreak. My favorite bits are during the “going to the theater” scene, where Lennon name-drops possible short film inspirations into the dialog, but quickly counters it with self-mockery, and – of course – when someone says “hey, Julian! Big fan!” Ya can’t say the dude doesn’t have a sense of humor. Elaborately designed, shot, and choreographed, the film is far more lavish than the actual album, but is still able to be entertaining without changing your mind about the songs.
In the eight years since Into the Sun, plenty of us have wondered if Lennon was ever going to make another album. With Friendly Fire, he’s shown the world that it’s quality, not quantity, that matters, and that the time lapse has only gone into molding a more confident and capable songwriter.