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Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 / Sean Lennon

If John Lennon were alive today, he might be like his acolyte Robyn Hitchcock, putting out a new record every couple of years and continuing to circle the same lyrical and musical obsessions. And that might not be so bad. Hitchcock's latest album, Olé! Tarantula, is one of the eccentric singer-songwriter's best in years, mainly because it sounds almost exactly like something he would've recorded two decades ago. "Museum Of Sex" has the same kind of bleating horns he used on "The Cars She Used To Drive" back in 1982, and the guitar on "Red Locust Frenzy" could've been copied straight from his "I Often Dream Of Trains." There's purity to the way Hitchcock continues to sing oddities like "Adventure Rocket Ship" and "Underground Sun," and poignancy to the way he continues to tie fantasy imagery to a sense of personal yearning. On Tarantula's best two songs, "Belltown Ramble" and "N.Y. Doll," Hitchcock even references old rockers like R.E.M. and the late Arthur Kane, as a way of keeping his curvy guitar-pop grounded firmly in rock's great continuum.

On the other hand, if John Lennon were alive today, he might be like his son Sean, writing nothing songs and propping them up with dreamy orchestration. And that would suck. On Lennon's second solo album, Friendly Fire, the Beatles scion gives nearly every song the same tick-tock rhythm and Jon Brion-style hurdy-gurdy (some of it actually provided by Brion), and every time he comes up with something slight but sweet, like the lullaby "Tomorrow" or the off-kilter ballad "Would I Be The One," he kills the momentum with songs like "Spectacle" and "Headlights," which sound dry and dull. Friendly Fire's real problem is that Lennon keeps coming up with airy melodies that recall his father's work, only they don't really sound like John anymore, they sound like Elliott Smith. And what would he be doing, if he were alive today?


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