Julian Lennon, the eldest son of slain ex-Beatle John Lennon, got so fed up with the music business he decided to take a long vacation for himself.
Seven years, to be exact.
"I just felt it wasn't going the way I had hoped," Lennon, 35, said during a recent call from London. "I made a very clear and distinct decision ... which turned out to be a blessing in disguise ... to get out of that."
But now, after years spent taking pictures, cooking and traveling Europe, Lennon has re-emerged with his fifth album, Photograph Smile. It was released in May in Europe and Asia; it's due out Feb. 23 in the United States.
Photograph Smile, Lennon said, is the album he's always wanted to make, the one he believes people will remember him for a generation from now.
The album is full of melodic ballads, such as "I Should Have Known" (RealAudio excerpt), that ebb and flow, and lyrics that long and love and somberly reflect. Lennon said the music mirrors the more adult outlook he gained during his sabbatical.
"It was the first time as an adult I allowed myself to spend time with myself as an adult," said Lennon, who stayed mostly in New York during the late '80s but now lives in a small town in Italy.
Julian Lennon first came to public attention, four years after his father's assassination at the hands of an emotionally disturbed fan, with his 1984 album Valotte, which spawned two hit singles, "Valotte" and "Too Late for Goodbyes." But his subsequent efforts -- The Secret Value of Daydreaming (1986), Mr. Jordan (1989) and Help Yourself (1991) -- were critical failures and sold poorly.
He embarked on his brief retirement after a series of disputes with his label, Atlantic Records, over the direction of his career. Lennon said his feeling of not having control of his own career, combined with the pressure of being the son of a legend, "screwed up a lot of my life."
Publicists at Atlantic did not return calls seeking comment on Lennon's relationship with the label.
To avert interference from higher-ups this time, Lennon formed a label of his own, Music From Another Room, with American producer Bob Rose. The label, based in London, released Photograph Smile in the U.K. Fuel 200 is releasing the album in the U.S.
Rose, a veteran of rock albums by Donovan, Skid Row, and Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, co-produced Photograph Smile with Lennon. He said Lennon and a group of musicians including guitarist Justin Clayton, (a childhood friend with whom Lennon co-wrote several songs), bassist Simon Edwards and pianist Gregory Darling recorded 30 tracks in the span of a year. Fourteen of them made the album.
"All of the melodic contour on the album, that's all Julian," Rose said. "It was a very natural response to what was going on in the studio."
That melodic contour, to some listeners, might conjure images of John
Lennon, particularly the soft-rock songs of Lennon's later years, such
as "Watching the Wheels" and
(RealAudio excerpt) from Double Fantasy (1980).
(RealAudio excerpt) the first single off Photograph Smile, features a distinctly
Beatles-esque song structure, with a nearly symphonic chorus and
The similarities with his father's work amused Julian, Rose said.
"He'll be listening to something during the playback and he'll say, 'That's very Lennon,'" the producer said.
"But the reality is, that's him."
The lyrics to "Day After Day" detail the emotional plight of a soldier separated from his lover. Lennon said the song is a thinly veiled metaphor for life as a traveling musician.
"It does feel like you're at battle out here (as a musician) at times," he said.
And for the first time in a long time, he feels as if he's got the upper hand.
"Before this, there wasn't a whole album I was completely satisfied with," Lennon said. "That was a necessity for me."
Lennon and Rose are busy preparing to re-enter the American market. Rose, from the Music From Another Room offices, said the company is being deliberate in its marketing of Photograph Smile. It waited until now to release the album here, despite its string of chart successes abroad, including a stint as the #1 album in Japan.
"It was intentional," Rose said. "Look, he didn't do well with his last two albums at all. Julian doesn't have the endless pot of money everyone seems to think he does."
Lennon will perform next Wednesday on the Late Show With David Letterman and eventually hopes to appear on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno as well, Rose said. He'll return to the United States in April for a two-month promotional stay, which Rose said might include a string of charity shows and in-store appearances.
He plans to tour the United States this summer.