John Lennon Anthology
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
By Tony BonyataRecord companies have been hounding her to do it. Fans have begged and pleaded her to release it. Finally 18 years after her husband's tragic death Yoko Ono has decided to open up the vaults to John Lennon's massive unreleased archives.
Ono has been putting this project off throughout the years because she found the memories too painful to relive, having to sift through the hundreds of hours of personal studio outtakes from Lennon's solo career. She ultimately decided it would be better for John's millions of fans if his music could somehow continue to live on.
Now thanks to Ono revisiting so many bittersweet memories we are bestowed with the John Lennon Anthology, a comprehensive 4-cd box set of unreleased material that spans Lennon's 1970-1980 solo work apart from The Beatles.
Far from trying to represent the quintessential Lennon collection, Ono's intent on this release was to show the world a side of him that only she knew. Not the talented ex-Beatle that people knew through the press, records, T.V. or film, but rather a loving husband and father who was witty, at times shy, could get irate and above all, just like the rest of us, human.
While this collection, which is filled with 'in-progress' songs with fade-ins, fade-outs, false-starts and far-from-polished productions, will probably not knock the uninitiated over, it is sure to illuminate anyone who appreciated the often brilliant solo work of this man.
The set, which features Lennon's own whimsical line drawings throughout as well as an informative 60-page booklet, is broken out into four distinct periods of his solo career; Ascot (named after their English mansion that they purchased soon after The Beatles disbanded), New York City (which focuses on their love of the Big Apple and their brief foray into left-wing politics), The Lost Weekend (Lennon's separation from Yoko which found him floating in the bottom of a bottle in L.A. with drinking buddy Harry Nilson) and Dakota (which covers his final years where he reconciled with Ono and happily ensconced himself in domesticity, raising their son Sean and baking bread for the family).
The Ascot disc focuses on studio outtakes from his first two, and most creative solo efforts, Plastic Ono Band and Imagine. It's hard to imagine the songs that graced Plastic Ono Band could get any rawer, a time when he and Yoko were going through Arthur Janov's 'Primal Scream' psychiatric therapy together, but the 'working'
versions of songs like "Mother", "Isolation", "Working Class Hero" and "God" prove that Lennon was using the studio as his couch and his music as his real therapy. The Ascot disc is further highlighted with a simpler version of his signature number "Imagine", as well as "Maggie May", a short little ditty The Beatles recorded on their Let It Be album, and a raunchy version of "Baby Please Don't Go" which showcases Bobby Keys smokin' sax and Lennon's, often overlooked, ability to churn out a huge menacing guitar sound (can you say "Happiness Is A Warm Gun"?).
Disc Two (New York City) and Three (The Lost Weekend) features rough drafts from Lennon's somewhat more forgetful period. Covering his albums Somewhere In New York City (too political), Mind Games and Walls and Bridges (too disjointed) and Rock and Roll (too nostalgic) these discs nonetheless offer up treats like "I'm The Greatest" and 'Goodnight Vienna" (songs that Lennon wrote for Ringo Starr to record), a semi-autobiography of his 'lost weekend' on "Nobody Loves You When You're Down And Out" and some hysterical studio conversations between Lennon and Phil Spector, who not only produced his Rock and Roll album but showed Lennon who was running the show.
The final disc Dakota opens up with a much harder, dirtier, guitar-driven version of "I'm Losing You" (with Cheap Trick as his band!) that blows the doors off the "Double Fantasy" release. It also features a few playful satires on Bob Dylan as well as the previously unreleased gems "Grow Old With Me", "Mr. Hyde's Gone" and "The Rishi Kesh Song", which sounds like it could have easily been an outtake from The Beatles White Album. One of the strengths of this disc, ironically, is not the great music but rather Lennon's cute conversations with his young son Sean.
However difficult it must have been for Yoko to assemble this collection of up-close and personal recordings of Lennon, she must feel good in finally showing the world a man, up until now, only she really knew.
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