I have to admit, I very nearly didn’t buy this album. Although I don’t doubt Sean Lennon’s talent as a songwriter (he released one of my very favourite albums of all time in 2006, “Friendly Fire”), other releases haven’t quite captured my attention as much, such as his début, “Into The Sun” which showed promise but not much else, and GOASTT’s first album, an acoustic affair that, whilst pleasant and interesting, lacked substance and that certain something. However, I have massively enjoyed the last couple of Plastic Ono Band releases with his Mother, Yoko, and detected the strong musical presence of Sean behind the success and critical acclaim those albums received. When I saw there was a new GOASTT (Ghost Of A Sabertooth Tiger) album being released, it was the recent memory of the Plastic Ono Band albums that swayed me to part with my cash, not just a nostalgic indulgence because of “Friendly Fire”. I wasn’t expecting this release to be as good as that album, nor anything like it, but I was certainly hoping that it would be worth buying and at least show the melodic creativity that had led me to champion his work over seven years ago.
If you’ll allow me to unashamedly enthuse, “Midnight Sun” is absolutely top notch. It is an eclectic, melody and harmony-drenched journey through rock, folk, psychedelia and classic pop from a bygone age. GOASTT take all of the elements that made “Friendly Fire” such a compelling listening experience and send them on an acid trip, exploding with multicoloured, wildly creative sonic pleasure. Right from “Too Deep”’s brash, confident drum beat that introduces the album and the thrilling Charlatans-esque Hammond organ soaking the spiky minimalist riff, it’s apparent that this album is going to be something rather special. Sean’s voice floats over “Xanadu”’s brilliantly twisted psychedelic pop like the haze of smoke over a smouldering fire and, two songs in, it’s incredibly and instantly enjoyable. “Animals”, performed entirely by Lennon, is a big alternative rock song, almost harking back to the days of grunge, with a quiet-loud characteristic and a near-apocalyptic theme (“So say a prayer for the internet billionaire/a solar flare will burn the hair of man and polar bear”); simply put, it’s fantastic.
Mark Ronson makes an appearance on and also produces “Johannesburg”, featuring the prominent and rather lovely vocals of Charlotte. As anybody familiar with Ronson’s work would expect, he brings a catchy, shiny pop sensibility to the track and, although it blends in very well with the rest of the album, you can tell that it has a slightly different quality to the rest of the songs. It’s still excellent, though, and there’s a sublimely skewed guitar solo and a light, trippy drum beat which makes it utterly likeable. The glorious title track boasts a fat drum beat, a classic Eels-like riff that bass and guitar double up on and an explosive chorus lightly decorated with electrifying synths. “Last Call” begins like it’s going to be a prog-rock epic, but then it twists and turns with beautifully Bowie-esque lyrics (“Newspapers screaming like seagulls/at the coffee shop cannibals/red lips howling at a mirror ball/it’s the eclipse of the last call”) narrating different musical themes which are interwoven seamlessly, ending with a spaced-out guitar solo – it’s nothing short of remarkable. “The Devil You Know”, on the other hand, is the first track that, whilst perfectly listenable, could be described as a bit ordinary.
The only cover on “Midnight Sun”, is a song made famous by Peggy Lee in the late 1940s, the haunting title track of a film called “Golden Earrings” and GOASTT do a rather wonderful job coaxing all of the drama, romance and feeling out of the song. It’s reminiscent of the treatment given to Marc Bolan’s “Would I Be The One” on Sean’s “Friendly Fire” album. “Great Expectations” is an intriguing piece as it appears to be a barely disguised, semi-autobiographical account of Lennon’s artistic life (“If you forget your lines/they’ll feed you to the lions”); it’s a great song too, with a rather catchy chorus. “Poor Paul Getty” sounds like an updated Kinks song with lyrics by Paul Simon; it’s an excellent example of just how much Sean’s songwriting has developed over the years. The close harmonies, highbrow lyrics and the occasionally discordant feel of “Don’t Look Back Orpheus” hark back to the GOASTT début, but also have a light, playful characteristic and the level of musical detail is truly arresting. The album closes with “Moth To A Flame”, which is a beautiful and brilliant, intelligent piece of progressive rock, with Pink Floyd immediately coming to mind, treating the listener to nearly seven minutes of utter rapturous bliss. It’s a pretty-much perfect way to end a rather terrific album.
Musically, this album is superb. Lyrically, this album is superb. The performances are… yes, you guessed it, superb. Although the anthems for the broken-hearted Sean composed on “Friendly Fire” will take a lot of dislodging as my personal favourites, my objective mind tells me that “Midnight Sun” is, by far, the best and most accomplished piece of work Lennon has ever been involved with and this album is a real testament to the partnership, both artistic and personal, that he has with Kemp Muhl. Of course, it is difficult (near impossible) to know actually who wrote what on this album. Based on my knowledge of Sean’s previous work, I can make educated guesses, but I do not wish to not give credit where it is due to Charlotte and the fact that this album is so multi-dimensional compared to Lennon’s earlier work music be attributed to his partnership with her. This album is on a par, in terms of creativity and composition, equally spellbinding and enjoyable, with Jonathan Wilson’s breathtaking “Fanfare” album from 2013. I have been absolutely blown away with the quality of “Midnight Sun” and, should there still be any lingering doubts about Sean Lennon’s talent, let this album put them to rest once and for all. Outstanding.
GOASTT is an artistic collaboration between Sean Ono Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl. Their new album, “Midnight Sun” was released in the UK on April 28th, 2014. Alternatively, downloads and physical copies are available now, direct from Chimera Music at
Andy Sweeney, 1st June, 2014 (first published on 19th April, 2014)