Yoko Ono - Warzone

by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2018-10-19
Yoko Ono - Warzone
Yoko Ono - Warzone

I don’t know anyone exactly drooling in anticipation of a new Yoko Ono record. That said, as an artist, I think she’s incredibly misunderstood. And more than anything, Yoko Ono is an artist. An uncompromising one. Of course, for years she’s been a running joke for Beatles fans and others who take delight in mocking her singing. Yet, I wonder if they'd have the same reaction to Japanese Folk music. For her singing style certainly derives from that tradition. In that sense, she’s not all that “out there” except to the Western ear.

For my own part, my appreciation and awareness of her work rose greatly in estimation after being asked to cover one of her songs for the tribute album, Cut Pieces. My assignment was, ‘She Hits Back’. A punch in the face to male privilege. I took no liberties. I didn’t change a line. I covered the song as is. And I learned a great deal in the process about Ono and her work. Other artists on the album did take liberties and Ono wasn't having any of it and requested they re-record. Which goes to show, she's was never just messing around. She was quite specific and deliberate with her intentions and work. In terms of that work, much of the material on her new effort are spare, stripped down reworkings of what could be considered her classic, if underappreciated oeuvre.

If Warzone starts off a little heavy handed with the sounds of screams, sirens, and gunfire, it’s only to set the scene. “Men flashing their guns and balls, women looking like Barbie dolls,” she declares in between dire chants of ‘Warzone!” “All you want from us is pillow talk,” she laments. If you ask me, the years have not dulled her tongue. It’s as eviscerating as ever. And if it’s all a bit heavy-handed, well, in terms of the issues she's raising, there are lives at stake.

In ‘Hell In Paradise,’ Ono asks the immortal question, ‘Why are we afraid to mobilize?” True, we’d all rather be watching Netflix than listening to an octogenarian call society on their bullshit. If one is agitated by any of it, then that’s her aim. Call it: Agit Pop.

‘Now Or Never’, is a ballad that unmistakably bears Lennon’s influence. And here’s to carrying the torch. No one likes to be preached at, but is this preaching or raising awareness? Regardless, there’s an urgency in Ono’s voice that cannot be denied. ‘Where Do We Go From Here’, steadfastly keeps on the same course. And perhaps it’s all better said with a witty quip over luncheon as opposed to a truncheon, but Ono is hardly bereft of wit. Still, as Nick Lowe once wryly observed, “What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?” Or Yoko Ono, for that matter?

‘Women Power’ seeks to summon the kind of dirty Rock & Roll she cut with John back in the 70’s. Its never been her most convincing milieu but Ono has never been a Rock artist so much as someone who uses it as a color for the canvas she’s painting. “I want to make one thing clear,” she sings. And what’s clear is, she’s not taking anyone’s shit. “You may be a man, but you also must be human. So, open up and join us in living.” And what is her aim here?  “Bring back nature’s beauty.” Only an asshole is going to criticize such a message.

If Ono covered a Randy Newman song, it might sound something like, ‘It’s Gonna Rain’. “Life is a bowl of cherries, you give me a bowl of piss,” she sings. “Now piss will grow into trees one day, I’m getting my cherries anyway.” And if her singing agitates, it doesn’t take a genius to see she’s aware of it. That she’s deliberately trying to make the listener uncomfortable. To get their attention. All that aside, the song has quite a lovely melody.

‘Why’ is a long bestial wail. And if ‘Children Power’ sounds like it was written for Sesame Street, that’s the point. It’s a children’s song meant to empower and instill kindness. Good luck to any cynic seeking to crap on that notion. Elsewhere, ‘I Love All Of Me’ takes racism’s slap in the face with defiance. Musically speaking, it has all the makings of a Pop hit. One that could have the whole world singing along. 

For my money, ‘Teddy Bear’ is the most poignant and moving track on Warzone. A song fraught with fragility and vulnerability. Of course, the teddy bear is a metaphor but it’s also a personal, confessional moment where Ono puts down the protest signs and looks you straight in the eye.

Warzone draws the curtain with an acapella version of ‘Imagine’. Hearing her sing this legendary song (which she co-wrote) with virtually no backing really leaves a lump in the throat. I confess, I just got choked up. It’s such a naked, vulnerable performance, only a block of stone couldn’t be moved by it. You may say she’s a dreamer, but she’s not the only one.

This album isn’t going to change any minds about Yoko Ono or the concerns she’s singing about. But it’s the defiant sound of never giving up in the face of today’s perversity and travesty. Taking the time worn message, “Let’s give peace a chance” and sending it out there once again in the hopes that it may not only remind - but inspire. 

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