Sunday, October 17, 2010

John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Double Fantasy

John Lennon would have turned 70 this month.

I know this because his birthday is less than a week away from mine, and I used to this that was a big deal.

His birthday marks the re-issue of John Lennon’s solo material. It got me thinking if I need new copies of Lennon’s solo output as I’ve already acquired what I want on cd. Is the fidelity good enough for another copy of Imagine or Plastic Ono Band?

But the one that caught my attention was Double Fantasy, and the promise of a “naked” version of the album. It’s a record that’s noteworthy as it was the first after Lennon’s domestic exile and the last of his life. Both of these things put the album in a much higher profile than, say, Mind Games.

I decided to revisit the record last week, during an impromptu game of Clue with the little man down in the man-cave. I raided the vinyl for the soundtrack and found my vinyl copy of Double Fantasy.

I discovered why it’s been decades since I’ve listened to that album/

Of course, a lot of it is because the album is mired in tragedy. I can’t think of the album without remembering that I got it for Christmas in 1980 and the room got quiet after I unwrapped the gift and held it up for the obligatory “Here’s what I got” announcement.

My grandmother who typically came to our house each Christmas probably made some comment about Lennon, thereby moving the rotation with some words of wisdom like “It’s so sad that their little boy won’t have his daddy anymore.”

She didn’t understand the impact that Lennon had on me, just like I didn’t understand that his impact on me probably wasn’t as major as someone who grew up with the Beatles. I’m thinking now of all of those bands that started after seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

But there’s another reason why it’s been so long since I’ve listened to Double Fantasy: it’s good but not great.

The controversial thing at the time it was released-and this is something that was discussed as far as the hallways of my middle school-was that Yoko Ono appeared on half of the tracks.

I’m not going to lie and suggest that her contributions to Double Fantasy are the entire reason for its lack of greatness, but it certainly helps.

I appreciate her impact on music and find her challenging material admirable, but in terms of the consistency of Double Fantasy, it’s the reason for its inconsistency.

Double Fantasy begins with the “I’m Back!” declaration of “(Just Like) Starting Over,” a breezy bit of middle-age rock with an obvious nod to the music of Lennon’s youth.

Immediately following is “Kiss Kiss Kiss” Yoko’s jarring new wave blast, an obvious attempt to show Yoko as the inspiration of the B-52’s ladies, at least until she starts reaching orgasm at the end of the song under the strains of guitar feedback.

These moments of audio back and forth become cumbersome, owing more to Lennon’s stubbornness than any declaration of love. If I were more responsive of Ono’s art, I’d find Lennon’s material as tame and mature. On the other foot, I’d find Ono’s music to be frustrating and too abrasive to mesh with John’s yacht rock pose.

Yes, Lennon’s material on Double Fantasy sound like they’re the work of a man who is about to begin his fourth decade, a man with such a vital history to rock and roll that a record mogul like David Geffen could do nothing else but sign an artist with the condition that his wife get half of the record.

Without the tragedy that is unfortunately bound to this record, Double Fantasy is nothing more than a record that teases us to consider what Lennon would do after he finished his domesticated comeback.

It’s that very tragedy that makes the record as memorable as it is.

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