Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band - Between My Head and the Sky - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band - Between My Head and the Sky

by Rich Morris Rating:10 Release Date:

Yoko Ono, avant garde artist, composer, peace campaigner and, for the last 40 years, a lightening rod for all the misogyny and racism the Western world has to offer, could not have better timed her reentry into our mundane musical universe.

Things have thankfully improved substantially since the days when it was unwritten law that blame for the Beatles break-up must be laid at Ono's feet. We all know the story - Yoko came into John's world, made him go strange and sexy, and made the poor Beatle brothers argue and fall apart. What's ignored is that, in this reading of the Beatles tale, Ono plays a role similar to Judas Iscariot in the New Testament; that of a necessary evil - think of all the interesting Beatles songs that wouldn't exist with her galvanizing influence, the tales of Beatle rivalry and trauma which are frequently trotted out. Think of poor Uncut and Mojo - what would they do without this Freudian witch-mother to help them fill their pages?

From the first guttural shudder of opening track 'Waiting for the D Train' - a sound like Elvis in labour - you know you're dealing with a woman who has attained almost mythical status in pop culture; a writhing monstrous feminine alive with birth and death. The track is a tour de force of Ono's special style of unsinging, giving full range to her grunts, gurgles and banshee wails, all of it backed by lusty punk-funk supplied by her new Plastic Ono Band lineup featuring Cornelius, Yuka Honda (of Cibo Matto fame) and Ono's son Sean Lennon. It suggests Yoko (or possibly Sean, the album's producer) has been paying some attention to new generation riot grrrls Erase Errata.

Oddly, this is one of only two instances when Ono revels in the vocal ticks she is known for, the other being the trace-like 'Calling'. However, the album's first three tracks seem deliberately varied in such a way as to instruct the listener on the full range of 21st pop Ono mastered decades ago. 'The Sun is Down!' is all minimal, stuttering electro and would be quite at home on an album by Goldfrapp or Ladytron - or, for that matter, Kylie or Britney. 'Ask the Elephant', meanwhile, is like a lost Can track; Yoko's vocals skipping girlishly over a loping, semi-dub rhythm.

After this it feels as if Ono senses she has proved her point, as the album shifts down a gear or two and, with the exception of 'Calling' and the title track, stays that way. What's left reveals itself to be an album of great longing and sensitivity. The mournful jazz of 'Memory of Footsteps' features Ono thanking someone 'for being you'. Many songs, such as 'Healing' and 'Feel the Sand', return to familiar tropes - appeals for peace and evocations of nature's awesome power. 'Let the blue sky heal you', she sings on the shimmering, Grace Jones flavoured 'Watching the Rain'. Coming from most artists, such sentiments would induce a little cringe (hello, Devendra Banhart), but from someone who has suffered loss and prejudice the way Ono has, who has persistently communicated ideas and concepts with rare intellectual vigour and rarer humour, these lyrics feel as raw and transcendental as her more visceral vocal outbursts.

This album is so timely because it reinstates Ono as the outsider's outsider, and no doubt introduces her to a new generation. It also successfully reminds us that before Patty, Polly, Bjork and PJ, there was Yoko. Now an octogenarian, Ono is still full of love and violence, still very much a force to be reckoned with. It's not too big a stretch of the imagination to suppose a certain Madonna Ciccone might be listening with interest.

Best tracks: 'Waiting for the D Train', 'The Sun is Down', 'Watching the Rain'

Richard Morris

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