It’s a year into the new century; will we find intelligent life in the charts? Everything about Farrell Lennon says damn straight yes we will. The 24-year-old Brit singer-songwriter has suitable attributes beaming from head to toe. An effortless vocalist; a graphic lyricist; a nifty dancer; an instinctively cheeky disposition and a face to launch a thousand wry sighs. Well wouldn’t you be confident?
Lennon mark II: The pop prince comes straight out of East London’s Leyton with an implausibly impertinent surname inherited from his Irish father, knowing eyes courtesy of his half-Chinese mum and a cocky self assurance derived from years of struggle. At 12 he performed his first self-penned tune for his siblings, only to find his sturdy Motown-esque ballad derided by his bro and sis. The young Farrell would not be dismayed. He pulled himself together, sought solace in the works of Michael Jackson and re-commenced his climb to pop excellence.
Let’s be clear now; Farrell is no flimsy cardboard cut out fool of a faked up frontman. If on first listening to the limber, light-footed, giant neon hooked tunes on his eponymous debut album, the idea surfaces that surely this kid must have emerged from imprisonment in some superstar boyband, it’s understandable. Lennon’s way with pop is that of someone, who could have gone the lazy, tacky route but decided to take the longer harder road to drop dead, bumptious brilliance. There is no committee guided choreographed nightmare of will-do-this condescension in Farrell’s past. He wanted to dazzle.
“These days you get so many artists who are supposed to be songwriters but they write their songs with five different writers and producers and they’ll add two words and it’s all about the money and the publishing and trying to cash in, and they’re not really writers at all,” says Farrell. “So it was really important to me to prove my worth in writing songs, to write all the words, all the music, start to finish.”
Vying for the title of Worlds Greatest Music Lover, Lennon has drawn on a wide pop heritage for the twelve smash tunes which form his debut album. Bold as class and twice as funky, the album skips from brazen good-time pop, to electronic soul to orchestrally gilded ballads. Dance Or You Can’t rocks out feistily; She’s a Gas brings in some marmaladed 60’s flavours; Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover has constructive fun with the Paul Simon classic; Stand Aside lays down it’s finger clicking challenge with a lyric, which declares “So tell me are you ready for the latest superstar?”
Shyness is just not Farrell’s style. The first single taken from the album finds him in a ragga-superstar-on-viagra frame of mind, bestowing the semi tongue in cheek accolade of World’s Greatest Lover on himself. Shaggy and Prince might want to argue but there’s no disputing the panache of Lennon’s electro-funk tune.
“When I play it my mate’s go ‘Well that’s just so you’, so maybe they might think I’m this loud mouthed, cheeky so and so, but the thing is it’s only after you write a song that you really think about it and my girlfriend had been telling me about this film ‘Don Juan – The Worlds Greatest Lover’. I was on holiday, sitting in the sun, in Portugal, on my balcony, had the guitar, and I wrote it straight off.”
Between the priapism of Worlds Greatest Lover and the realism of Karma Karma lie the works of a wiley songwriter with a feel for fun and an appreciation of heritage. “I’d rather sit at home and listen to Frank Sinatra than listen to stuff that’s in the charts,” says Farrell. Add Prince, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon “for the lyrics” to his list of father figures and you’re closing in on Farrell’s enigma. The combination of his taste for the US godfathers and his own rites of passage through electro and hip hop place him closer to a Seal, a Jamiroquai or Beck, than to the current generation of flimsy idols.
In his teen years Farrell made the backflip from Michael Jackson fandom to 80’s electro and breakdancing. He had his own ‘crew’ but East London Champion status eluded them. “Not one street battle was won. We’d go around with our lino and were so crap we’d get burned every time,” he admits. His confidence however was growing. A false start job in a surveyor’s office was ditched in favour of a cultural studies course in Barking, which allowed more time to work on his demos. Argos in Ilford helped him out along the way (big shout goes out); selling him a keyboard and letting him return it when he needed the cash. Through the late 90’s he single handedly svengali’d himself into management and publishing deals, biding his time until he could do it his way.
“I don’t believe in doing something just because someone else is doing it,” says Farrell. “That’s the hardest thing about being an artist is trying to find where you want to be. It’s all very well saying this is a bit Sheryl Crowe, or this is a bit like Robbie, but it’s all second rate, and you’ve got to be first rate.”
If ambition without ability is one of the curses of the current music scene, then Farrell’s an undisguised blessing. He has had time to study the greats. He has had time to fall on his face. Without inflicting his learning process on us, he’s been busy making himself up into the limelight worthy funkflash Farrell of imminent MTV dominance. An East End boy with ambitions that have soared right over London, out west to the States and taken root there, he’s a rare find for British pop. Puzzlement, amazement and enjoyment cannot fail to follow.
“I would like this album to appeal to black, white, young, old and everyone in between, because I think it does have a crossover thing about it, Says Farrell. “It does have a strong black music influence, and that’s one of the differences between someone like Robbie and myself. He’s ironic pop in a very British white way whereas I’ve always been more into the American side of things, so that was the basis of what I’m into, black American music, and the rock thing came on top of that in the last couple of years. Before that I only listened to Stevie Wonder, early George Benson and Parliament. I think that’s where the root of my stuff is. I think there’s like a soul to it.”
The latest superstar? World’s greatest lover? Stud pop tease? One man war on anaemic music? Robbie with soul? Will the real Farrell Lennon please stand up..