What you hear on Fly is Yoko Ono's disarming combination of opacity and visceral, personal transparency in full bloom. It's one of the most unbridled, most captivating soul albums ever made.
And that's right where she wants you: vulnerable, wide open to any-and-everything, ready to have your world tipped onto its head. She's a master of spinning your head around. First, you get the Bar Band from Hell of "Midsummer New York" to kick things off. It's about the last thing you'd expect from Ono coming off Plastic Ono Band. But here you are, listening to Ono channeling Elvis. Why am I all of a sudden bopping along to it?
At 16-minute-plus, the tranced-out, motorik-inspired boogie "Mind Train" is rough-and-ready for your next basement get down. Movement and perspiration required. Then, we have the absolutely gutting blues of “Don’t Worry, Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand in The Snow)." Full of ache and raw emotion, the song is a love note, a plea for forgiveness, to her estranged daughter Kyoko shot across the universe on a flaming arrow.
Ono follows this stampede of emotion with the self-referential torch song "Mrs. Lennon," a wounded song that gets right into the Universal Loneliness. And so here you are. You're devastated. You're exhausted. You're exhilarated. And you're only 1/4 of the way up the mountain that is Fly. Dig deep, traveler, it’s worth the climb.
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If you've listened to Feeling the Space, Yoko Ono's personal-is-political 1973 album, it should come as no surprise that the once-reviled artist is inspiring a new generation of activists in 2017. On such songs as the righteous chant "Woman Power," the empathetic ballad "Angry Young Woman," the hilarious proto-grrrl "Potbelly Rocker," and the satirical "Men Men Men," Yoko sings in surprisingly straightforward fashion about the burdens carried by women and the mandate for feminism. Supported by such skilled studio vets as guitarist David Spinozza, sax player Michael Brecker, and drummer Jim Keltner, this is perhaps Yoko's most accessible album, and her most intimate. Feeling the Space was recorded during the time when the avant-garde visionary artist became estranged from her rock-star husband John Lennon. He plays only briefly on the album (billed as Johnny O'cean); she produced and wrote all the songs.
The result is a definitive soundtrack/document of the era of consciousness raising and of radical critique of the family structure. Yoko and company deliver this hard message soft rock style, or as soft as Yoko could get. Yoko was on the front lines of the women's liberation movement. Dedicated "to the sisters who died in pain and sorrow and those who are now in prisons and in mental hospitals for being unable to survive in the male society," it's an emotional exploration of the psychological toll of oppression.
Turns out the very sound of falling in love is just as abstract, subjective and loopy as the concept itself. Yoko Ono and John Lennon are two of history's greatest lovers, and Two Virgins is the document of the pair falling in love in real time. The album is a curious and amazing suite recorded over one weekend in Spring 1968 at Lennon's Kenwood home: Distant conversations; comedic role playing and footsteps; laughter, birdcalls and plunking piano lines; silly songs and space; tape delay stretching shrieks, bass rumbles and moans to the moon and back again.
The now-iconic cover (featuring Ono and Lennon standing nude together) notwithstanding, nothing about Two Virgins is safe. It would be a risky move today for artists in the larger, pop-culture conversation just as it was a risky move in 1969. But this is an uncomfortably private, two-person dialogue about - and celebration of - experimentation, inspiration and play. And these two souls bravely let us look through the keyhole.
Life with the Lions is the sound of Ono and Lennon validating their love as something impenetrable and timeless. It's when we, the listener, begin to fully understand that the scope of their recording efforts was much more than a recording collaboration, and something closer to a performative documentary, a declaration of "Our life and our love is our art - every nitty, gritty part of it."
This long-overdue vinyl reissue of Yoko Ono's seminal, but massively under-appreciated Plastic Ono Band has all the makings of a classic rock nostalgia trip: Ono, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman and free-jazz legend Ornette Coleman. All the pieces are here to stir up a dangerous amount of nostalgia. But once the needle drops, the record achieves something exactly perpendicular to nostalgia.
Released in 1971, the album not only influenced the approach of other musicians for decades, it also sounds absolutely modern 44 years out, eternally fresh despite the forward march of time. Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band not only predicted the intersection of the avant-garde and rock that would take place in the second half of that decade, the album would sound right at home at where that intersection is happening today.