Monday, November 22, 2010

John Lennon • Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Mind Games, Walls and Bridges, Rock 'N' Roll, et al. [2010 Reissues]

Well, well, well. Here we have a new batch of remastered John Lennon albums, and this time the wife didn't remix them or do anything to mess with them. The ones that streamed out last decade were all right if you want to hear something a little different (I thought Rock 'N' Roll was worth remixing, and was made stronger by remixing), but really, you don't want these to be fucked with. That being said, some bonus tracks would be nice. You know, like contemporary B-sides, singles that didn't make an album, stuff like that. But I guess Yoko has heard enough complaints over the years, and this time she decided to leave things alone. Good on ya!

Plastic Ono Band is still Lennon's strongest album, and his first solo studio album, so it's kinda sad to think he didn't better himself after that. But at the same time, it's such an amazing LP that I'd doubt anyone could make a better effort. When you lay it all out on the line like John did with this album, it's gotta be like getting a big burden off your shoulders. You know? Like, okay, what do I do next? Imagine came next, in '71, and it's a sweet record, though nowhere near as powerful and focused as POB. Of course it was buoyed by the eponymous single, which truth be told, I can't really listen to much anymore. (And "All You Need Is Love," too. Perhaps my mind is trying to tell me something?) But "Crippled Inside" is still a brilliant folk rock workout, and "How Do You Sleep?" still feels as vitriolic as it did when it came out. And who can resist the photo of Lennon trying to hold back a pig, in mockery of Paul McCartney's Ram album photo?

Mind Games was another good one, again, no match for POB, but not too shabby either. "Mind Games" was a great single, and I can still remember how I felt when hearing it on the late great AM radio back when I was ten. Walls and Bridges came in 1974 and that one is one I really love, much more so than when I first heard it in the late '70s as a neophyte Beatles fan. I always loved "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night," with Sir Elton on piano and vocals, but it's the album's melancholy vibe that gets me. Sure, Lennon's kinda moping throughout (he was bestranged from Yoko around this time, hanging out with Harry Nilsson at the Troubadour in L.A. and getting tanked all the time), but there's a real feeling to this record that's not artificially bolstered by a "concept" or anything like that. It ends with John and his son Julian doing "Ya Ya," with the boy playing very rudimentary snare drum while dad bangs on the piano. That song appears in full band form on Rock 'N' Roll, the album of '50s era cover songs that Lennon cut in '73-'74 (released in '75) and which has always been a favorite of mine. There's something about hearing your idols take on the songs that helped form their mindset that is very appealing, and when they're done well (and different enough to warrant the doing of it in the first place), you can't lose. Like Bowie's Pinups, this is a solid page in the man's family album, even if it's not original songs.

Also reissued is Double Fantasy, which has been given the remix treatment (Double Fantasy... Stripped) but comes with both that and the original mix together in one package. Not too much is gained by backing off the strings and such, but Lennon's songs here are okay and you hear them in what amounts to demo form. And a couple of Yoko's tunes aren't bad either. I didn't bother with the Milk and Honey reissue (I'll wait to find a used copy), since the only real good song on there is "Nobody Told Me." And, of course, there are the boxsets and greatest hits compilations too. Yoko didn't get these all right (no "Move Over Ms. L." on any of 'em), and uses a live take of "Cold Turkey" (possibly it's the Live Peace in Toronto version?) instead of the single version on one of the compilations. (I didn't get any of these.) Again, I plead with you, Yoko: LET ME DO IT NEXT TIME.

That being said, I like hearing the albums the way they were meant to be heard, and I can even go along with the lack of extra cuts. I just kept my John Lennon Collection CD and the Lennon Legend 2LP compilation in order to make up for it. I listen to these when I'm down, really yin, and I don't know what I'm doing...
5/5 Plastic Ono Band; 4/5 Imagine, 3.5/5 Mind Games, 3.5/5 Walls and Bridges (Capitol/Apple)

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