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John Lennon Plastic Ono Band (1970)


After the breakup of The Beatles John released several singles (“Give Peace A Chance,” “Cold Turkey,” “Instant Karma!”) and “experimental” (i.e. unlistenable) albums with wife Yoko Ono (Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions, and Wedding Album) before delivering John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, his bold first proper post-Beatles solo album. Using spare rock n’ roll as the backbone for baring his soul and greatly influenced by the primal scream therapy of Dr. Arthur Janov, Lennon angrily denounces his past (“God”), looks back at his painful relationship with his parents (“Mother,” “My Mummy’s Dead”), blasts hippy hanger ons always looking for a handout (“I Found Out”), and professes his love for Yoko (several songs) as he searches for peace of mind and a spiritual sense of self.

Though the album is at times more impressive than enjoyable and it sometimes shows its age during its more corny hippy-ish sounding declarations (“love is wanting to be loved”), Lennon’s brilliantly pure vocal performance makes up for its shortcomings. The exceedingly spare musical instrumentation, based primarily around Lennon’s guitar or piano work (with occasional help from Billy Preston and co-producer Phil Spector), Klaus Voorman’s bass, and the backbeat of Ringo Starr, further distances himself from the lush sonics of Abbey Road and his former identity; he even claims at one point “I was the walrus but now I’m John.”

In direct contrast to his usual grandiose productions, Spector is smart and ego-less enough to let these songs’ primitive strengths shine through, with the occasional electronic effect adding to the intensity at certain key moments. Some of the songs are overly simplistic and perhaps could’ve been further fleshed out, but at its devastating best (“Mother,” “Working Class Hero,” “God”) these introspective narratives are intensely moving. Certainly “Mother” is one of John’s most affecting songs ever, especially its anguished, oft-repeated last line (“mother don’t go, daddy come home”), as Lennon’s mother was killed by a car just as they were getting closer (his aunt Mimi basically raised him), and his father deserted him and only reentered his life (hand extended) after John had become rich and famous.

Another key track is “Working Class Hero,” which features Lennon “unplugged” and some bitingly cynical social commentary, while “God” is also indispensable as John denounces Jesus, Elvis, Dylan, and The Beatles (among many other things) before memorably declaring “I just believe in me, Yoko and me.” If The Beatles’ breakup and Altamont hadn’t signified the end of the ‘60s, John singing “the dream is over” certainly did, as Lennon looks to the future and urges his listeners to do the same. Elsewhere, harsh, grungy songs such as “I Found Out” and “Well Well Well” are why this album is often described as “difficult,” but there are lighter, more melodic breaks from the overall bleakness as well, such as “Hold On” (love its trippy guitar tone and comforting lyrics), “Isolation” (a sparse but deeply affecting piano ballad/rocker that’s both an absolute gem and an underrated album highlight), and “Love” (corny maybe as alluded to previously but still lovely).

Still, the album’s enduring reputation (despite being a commercial failure, causing a change in strategy for the ever-competitive John’s next album) is primarily due to its incredible overall intensity and unflinching honesty. Though many of these songs are ballad-like and he rarely exceeds mid-tempo material (even on a song as propulsive as “Remember”), John would never give such a visceral performance again.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | John Lennon Plastic Ono Band | | Leave a comment