For the first time in a decade, Julian Lennon has released a new album, Jude. The record comes at a key juncture in Lennon’s life and career, which he has largely spent trying to distance himself from his father’s image, sound, and history. Now, the title of his newest work serves as a direct nod to the Beatles’ great ode to a young Julian,“Hey Jude.” In 1968, Lennon was leaving his first wife, Julian's mother Cynthia Lennon, for Yoko Ono—Paul McCartney wrote the song as a way of comforting the young boy and expressing care for both Julian and Cynthia.
It is clear that Julian has begun to embrace the style and sound of his father on this album. Earlier this year, he performed his father’s hit “Imagine,” a song that had previously been self-embargoed by Julian to distance himself from his father, who essentially walked out on the family. (The two began rekindling a relationship during the years leading up to John’s assassination in 1980.) The choice to perform the song likely came in the final production phases of his Jude. It is clear, then, that the intermingling of John's influence in Julian’s work culminated in this critical moment.
The album itself is evidence that Julian Lennon’s voice and musical intellect has remained the driving force behind the complete record. It would be fair to say, however, that the stylistic choices made in the recording and production of the album are pointed towards a realignment of Julian’s voice with John’s, though not necessarily as an attempt to directly co-opt John's ‘60s and ‘70s sound. The record’s first tracks bring initial promise, their guitar and piano motifs a pleasant foundation. This quickly crumbles under the album's heavy-handed and overwrought production.
It seems Lennon had trouble finding a consistent sound. At different points throughout the album, he leans into the voicing of ‘90s-era Sting, the occasional cleanliness of Tears for Fears-esque pop, and the ethereal tone of his father’s voice. In almost all instances, though, these attempts come off as caricatures of their influences; they’re oversaturated but bereft of usefulness, as if to say they are mere imitations rather than true inspirations. The album falls victim to a sloppiness of production that seems evident in a number of modern soft-rock albums. While Jude does not fit neatly within that genre, the sonic swamping creates a listening experience that could certainly be improved. “Gaia,” the final track of the album, was by far Lennon's best and strongest showing. A duet with Elissa Lauper, backed by the piano of Paul Buchanan, “Gaia” indicates that understated production might have been the better route for Jude.
The stylistic and production woes are in many ways tragic. “Hey Jude” was, for many, a favorite of the Beatles discography; for Julian, it was a stark and poignant reminder of the trauma he faced as a young boy. This trauma seeps through Jude's lyrical grounding, but again, it's beaten down by the weight of leaden, plodding production. When taking the lyricism as part of the larger whole of the record, especially in tandem with the middling production, listening to the lyrics can become burdensome. What should come off as a genuine and mindful grappling with personal trauma was subverted, ultimately seeming a self-indulgent and pitiful lament.
While Jude misses its mark, it would be a disservice to diminish the importance this album has for Julian Lennon on a personal level. To reconnect with past trauma and reinvigorate a career after so many years is no small task. Although the album in its finished state came off weak, there was clear thought and emotion put into its creation—the final product should not be the last word on the great step it took for Julian to reconnect with his father’s legacy.