Julian Lennon review, Jude: Circling themes of trust betrayed and the slog of survival

·3-min read
Julian Lennon in a promotional shot for his new album, ‘Jude’ (Robert Ascroft)
Julian Lennon in a promotional shot for his new album, ‘Jude’ (Robert Ascroft)

Calling his seventh album Jude was an act of reclamation for Julian Lennon. In a recent interview, the 59-year-old explained that, while 1968 song “Hey, Jude” is “a great chanting song, a favourite Beatles song”, for him it had always been “a harsh reminder of what actually happened in my life, which was that my father [John Lennon] walked out on my mother [Cynthia] and me. That was a truly, truly difficult time.” Paul McCartney wrote the ballad to comfort his bandmate’s six-year-old son (originally calling it “Hey Jules”). John, rather typically, assumed that his bandmate had written it for him, as a blessing on his new relationship with Yoko Ono. No wonder Julian finally changed his birth name – John Charles Julian Lennon – to Julian Charles John in 2020.

Emotional echoes of this complicated public history reverberate through Jude’s solid collection of mature mid-tempo rockers and ballads. Lennon’s lyrics repeatedly circle themes of trust betrayed, the slog of survival and a wary yearning for new beginnings. “Save me/ Help me/ I feel I’ve lost control…” he sings, in his light, nasal graze of a voice on opener “Save Me”. It’s a track that builds from a mournful piano base into a confident crescendo of pounding 4/4 drums and strings swirling up and down Eastern semitones. Lennon says he wrote the song while looking in the mirror during the pandemic. So the lifelong loner (who struggled to make friends at school and still doesn’t consider himself part of the music scene) was pleading with his own reflection for assistance: “You’re the only one I know who lets the darkness come and go inside…”

There’s more isolation on the romantic “Not One Night” (where he sounds most like his dad), on which he croons of lost love over an elegant cello and simple acoustic strum: “Loneliness has come knocking at my door, but now that don’t phase me any more.” There’s a prowling, 007-style guitar line on “Round and Round” as he laments: “I’ve had enough of sadness and tears, flying solo, counting the years, just killing time.” He’s spoken recently of his struggles with anxiety and panic attacks – you can hear him choking the fear down.

Lennon’s production is clean, steely and a little claustrophobic. The space it conjures is that of a state-of-the-art panic room. Weighty drum beats slot perfectly into place like the bolts of a lock. Keyboard patterns – such as the one that underpins “Freedom” – have the impersonal repetition of access codes. There’s a smooth, metallic sheen to the guitars. The rolling bass line on “Every Little Moment” feels compressed densely enough to withstand explosives.

It’s not just personal trauma from which Lennon is protecting himself. He also gets political. He’s best known for singing in defence of the planet, after all. My kids sing his 1991 hit “Saltwater” once a week in assembly. On “Breathe” (surprisingly spacious in mood for such an angry song) he rips into leaders who had lost the trust of their people: “The road ahead is paved with gold/ I can’t believe the lies they’ve told/ There’s no more vision to behold/ We’ve lost it all, we’ve all been sold.”

He’s joined by The Blue Nile’s brilliant Paul Buchanan and French singer Elissa Lauper on “Gaia” for a dreamy fade-out of a finale, complete with the very Beatles-y message that “love finds a way to brighten up the darkest day”. Buchanan’s gnarly keening after the “raging waves, the love we crave” is perfectly balanced by Lauper’s breathy invocations of “le soleil et la lune, le ciel et la terre, ice et la” (even if her parts do sound a bit like the pretentiously whispery voiceover of a perfume commercial… “Jude, pour personne”). There are nods to the Beatles’ mindblown “Because” in both the melody and the vibe. It’s a sad, drifting kind of a song, but the heart Lennon puts into it makes everything feel, briefly, better.