In the surest sign yet that rock & roll may be turning into a form of the past, the music?s next-generation offspring are blatantly rejecting its rules and clichés. Nowhere is that trend more apparent than on the debuts of second-generation rockers Sean Lennon and Rufus Wainwright.
Unlike his tragic-prince half brother Julian, Sean Lennon isn’t a vocal ringer for his father. Nor does he aim for the young-adult-contemporary pop of Julian’s albums. A willfully small-scale work, “Into the Sun” (Grand Royal) finds Lennon happy just to noodle around on old-school synthesizers or coo bossa nova ditties to his girlfriend, Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda. He’s in no particular hurry to hone his musical voice or do much of anything else: In song, he laments the time he spends taking baths or watching too many TV talk shows.
“Into the Sun” is lemon-meringue pop, down to Lennon’s unaffected voice. Even when he cranks up some scuzz-rock guitars, the music is almost intentionally marginal. A dose of his father’s (or mother’s) primal screams would have been welcome. But perhaps all Sean needs is love, sweet love. The album’s cuddly, kitsch-pop sensibility could easily be compensating for (or masking) his feelings of longing for his assassinated father.
The son of sardonic folkie Loudon Wainwright III and rueful Canadian folkie Kate McGarrigle, Wainwright has, based on his eponymous debut (DreamWorks), inherited a number of genetic traits: namely cuts-like-a-knife lyric phrases and warm-and-fuzzy art folk. His voice, cocky yet vulnerable, theatrical yet plaintive, owes a little to each parent.
All similarities end there. Steeped in European cabaret and Gershwin-style romanticism, “Rufus Wainwright” feels like the soundtrack to an unreleased ?30s film. With its lost-weekend langour, the album taps effortlessly into a distant, pre-rock era, complete with ballroom-dance orchestrations from Van Dyke Parks. The results are charming, and Wainwright has managed to avoid the hokey, wax-museum tendencies of a Michael Feinstein. Roll over, Chuck Berry, and tell Irving Berlin the news.