Named for a short story by partner-bandmate Charlotte Kemp Muhl, Sean Lennon’s primary musical outlet has, like much of his solo work, been determinedly low-key. The Acoustic Sessions LP, from 2010, was exactly as described: gentle Muhl-Lennon duets seemingly designed to backdrop a vintage magnum of Chassagne-Montrachet. The limited-release follow-up, 2011’s La Carotte Bleue, electrified some of the same songs, and rocked a winking cover of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Comic Strip.” But Midnight Sun is something else. “Too Deep” opens the album on fat drums, Deep Purple-ish organ howls, crunching guitars and Lennon’s nasal snarl – midway between his dad on “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Steven Tyler on “Sweet Emotion.” This is a rock record, no apologies.
There is, however, plenty of skepticism, aimed mainly at pop culture and its media mirror. “Say a prayer for the Internet billionaire,” Lennon sings amid Muhl’s woozy backing on “Animals,” nodding to “messages from Jesus in the grease upon the grilled cheese,” and the title track conjures “another rave in a cave like a mass grave.” Self-produced (with studio gurus Dave Fridmann mixing and Mark Ronson contributing one track), the album sounds like a playful mix of Sixties and Seventies tropes. Overall, the set could use some emotional weight to match the level of wit and craft. But on “Golden Earrings,” a shape-shifting cover of Peggy Lee’s 1940s gypsy ballad, Lennon and Muhl invest a thrift-store find with remarkable soul. They’re an act with a lot up their blousy sleeves.