Yoko Ono. Divisive to many, divine to few. And a patron saint of confident weirdness to certain odd souls, myself included.
Somewhere between the end of The Beatles and the death of John Lennon, Ms. Ono transcended her famous personal life with a now-signature form of artistic expression which has burrowed its way into the collective psyche of the art world at large through the past four decades. Spinning off from the demented twin Plastic Ono Band albums her and John made in 1970, Ono’s velocity tore through krautrock, noise, and primal scream histrionics on the towering double album Fly, cementing her royal status among experimental music circles. Since that landmark she’s made everything from underground club hits to sappy world peace ballads, outsider art projects and off-Broadway musicals, and on to 2007’s collaborative disc Yes, I’m A Witch, in which her work was reinterpeted by a menagerie of modern artists including The Flaming Lips, DJ Spooky, and Porcupine Tree.
As it turns out, her infectious single Walking On Thin Ice, an amazing slice of disco-motorik swagger from 1981, and the monstrous, willfully difficult (though highly rewarding) Fly are the greatest touchstones for this new album. Reclaiming the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band moniker for the first time since John was around, and enlisting not only the help of their son Sean but also Japanese electronic chameleon Cornelius and Yuka Honda (formerly of Cibo Matto along with Sean), Yoko Ono has unleashed her best work in decades, if not ever. And I’m beginning to lean towards “ever.”
Combining the skittering, nervous percussion and extended minimalist stomp of propulsive freakouts like Mind Train with a concise ear for pacing and texture, these tracks tickle pleasure centers in opposite parts of the brain simultaneously: the vigorous thrill of flying off the rails with a mad scientist of noisy pop and the soothing coo of a mother’s lullaby approaching some previously unknown singularity. Equally esoteric and life-affirmingly prosaic, she spreads vibes of goodwill and peace as effortlessly as a storm dropping rain. At 76 years old I believe the grand matron of avant garde pop has earned the right to express elegantly simple platitudes about life in whichever manner she sees fit.
Apparently what she sees is a rollercoaster journey from tribal percussion through minimal dance grooves toward parting clouds and the sunshine of a resigned, reserved, and sighing happy heaven where she views her lifelong love awaiting. John (insert your own idea of love, bliss, etc) is out there, she seems to be happy to share, and letting go is a step toward attaining true peace and becoming one with this idea. But as asserted in the final 20 seconds of the album, I’m Alive! – she’s not finished with her time here. The fact that a satisfying end is within reach, and death is no longer a fear, doesn’t change her defiant nature. Standing up to legions of naysayers for decades has certainly not dulled her edge, and this declaration following the string- and piano-laden final stretch of the album serves as a jolting reminder. There are few artists in the world so polarizing, but for those on the right side of the fence, there are few so rewarding to both the head and the heart. And the sky.