Album Review: John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy (1980)

“No longer riding on the merry-go-round, I just had to let it go!”

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Rating : 7/10

After no more and no less than 5 years of nothing but sitting on the sofa and gardening, John Lennon decided to finally pick up his dusty old friend, the guitar and wrote a tune or two again. I’m not certain what made him decide to do so, but it’s my duty as a McCartney fan to point out that he named Paul’s Coming Up as one of the reasons. Interestingly enough, I think he has managed to top his “ex rival’s” song. Yes, I feel this a very strong and consistent song-writing effort, perhaps Lennon’s best as a solo artist. Wait, what? What do you mean this is not a Lennon solo album? Oh right, it’s credited John and Yoko and they both contributed with 7 songs each. But, in order for this to not become a Yoko-bashing review from the very first beginning, I’ll start with the positives – meaning John’s contributions.

He was at the time quoted as saying that he went into the studio “not to prove anything but just to enjoy it” and maybe that’s what made a difference. These here songs are neither absurd psychedelic noodlings, nor meaningful message-filled anthems. They’re just mindless and easy-going pop songs that deal with common themes such as: love – be it either from a husband to his wife (‘Woman’, ‘Just Like Starting Over’, ‘Dear Yoko’) or from a father to his son (‘Beautiful Boy’); reinvention of one’s self (‘Cleanup Time’) and insecurity and fear of losing the loved one (‘I’m Losing You’). Hmm, OK, all are common themes except maybe for ‘Watching The Wheels’ – an optimistic and very tuneful ode dedicated to the big break John took from the musical scene.

And what only adds to the departure being complete is the overall sound of the record. John collaborates this time with producer Jack Douglas, in creating a fuller, more polished and commercialy-orientated (but not neccesarily in a bad way) sound – far removed from the to-the-bone-bareness of Plastic Ono Band or the mundaneness of Mind Games. Sure, badmouths complain that the change in sound was nothing more him trying to get a radio hit, but what I say is: screw the badmouths. The only production jobs that I hate are those that I find inadequate for the record in question (see any post ’79 Beach Boys record for example) – and this is certainly not the case: ‘Double Fantasy’ presents itself as nothing but a friendly, open, accessible, sincere and easy-going-listen, so it’s all in good taste as far as I’m concerned.

The song that has always struck as the most beautiful is ‘Woman’ – a slice of pure magic, which, to this day, I can’t really explain my love for. I mean, it’s just a love ballad, mushy at some times, brilliant at others, but nothing seemingly ground-shaking. Yet, it’s perhaps the heavenly wordless chorus or that oh-so-beautifully-sounding guitar line backing it up that provides the magic. Or maybe it’s something else. I already told you – I don’t know. When it comes to the other songs though, I can concisely put my finger on what makes them really good: the tension-generating build-up in ‘Cleanup Time’; Lennon delivering one brilliant, emotional line after another in ‘Beautiful Boy’ (with “Before you cross the street, take my hand/Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” as my absolute favourite); the catchy, memorable chorus of ‘Just Like Starting Over’ that comes rolling in like a speeding roller-coaster; the paranoid, bitter atmosphere on ‘I’m Losing You’; and the cheerful, bouncy groove of ‘Dear Yoko’ (even though the song is certainly not the album’s most inspired).

Next to these beauties, we have an equal number of uglies submitted by his famous wife, Yoko Ono. Hmm, no, that was a way too lenient way of putting it. Let me try again. The 7 remaining songs are some of the most unlistenable crap ever put on tape by any artist in my music collection. Yoko’s Japanese, caterwauling-like voice is something that has to be truly heard to be believed (No, scratch that, it’s not worth hearing it actually). It’s the voice that will leave big, wounded scratches on you brain, and even though Jack Douglas tries his best to make it listenable (see ‘I’m Moving On’), I simply can’t perceive any reason of her ever officially singing anything for anybody, let alone having 7 compositions on a John Lennon album. It still rubs me the wrong way to realize that John thought otherwise. That’s not to say that the songs themselves are all beyond horrible. No, there are musical qualities to be found, and even a will to experiment at times (unlike John’s, I’d say). The atmosphere in ‘Beautiful Boys’, for example, is somehow intriguing, in a spooky-trippy kind of way. But it doesn’t matter at all – her singing it cancels any chance it might’ve have had to be enjoyed. And this applies to every single one of them.

And that’s quite a shame really, since, as I’ve mentioned in the beginning, I really enjoy John’s songs. He seemed to have left all his problems behind by the time and found pleasure in writing music again. Seeing what direction his career would head to – considering the fact that the 80’s were just around the corner – would’ve been quite interesting as well. But, unfortunately, we’ll never get the answer to that, since the poor guy got shot by a psycho no more than 3 weeks after the album’s release. Rest in peace John, and thank you for one last gasp of brilliancy. Oh well, half a gasp, anyway.

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4 replies

  1. Maybe the word realized that, as great as he was composing and singing, he just could get her away from his microphone. Since she has no chance whatsoever to record anything on her own, the world is saved, at the highest cost, from her horrible sound.

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