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A tasty double treat from John & Yoko

John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Double Fantasy Stripped Down
(Capitol Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Oct. 29, 2010
Lennon & Yoko

Review by Tony Bonyata

In honor of what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday earlier last month, EMI Music and Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, rolled out a massive worldwide catalogue campaign of the former Beatle's solo efforts. This not only included re-mastered re-issues of his eight albums, but also a new best-of collection entitled Power To The People: The Hits, as well as a deluxe 11 CD John Lennon Signature Box set. Ironically, however, the most interesting album in this whole re-issue campaign is better remembered by Lennon's tragic death 30 years ago than his birthday. That's because Lennon & Ono's Double Fantasy was released just three weeks prior to the singer's untimely murder. Double Fantasy Stripped Down is a two-CD set which not only includes a fantastic sounding newly re-mastered edition of the original 1980 album, but also a second CD featuring simpler and unadorned takes of these same songs.

While Double Fantasy wasn't Lennon's strongest solo effort to date (I'd give that distinction to his first Plastic Ono Band album from 1970, or perhaps even 1971's Imagine), it did mark his return to the recording studio after spending the previous five years playing house-husband, baking bread and raising his and Yoko's son, Sean. It also spawned two number one hits, "(Just Like) Starting Over" (admittedly never one of my favorites) and "Woman," as well as great tunes such as "Watching The Wheels," the lovely "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" and, my own personal highlight, the harder rocking track "I'm Losing You." The album was also, for better or worse, equally interspersed with Yoko's own compositions. While these songs (by far her most pop-oriented ever) turned off many longtime naysayers, they also helped her to gain critical and audience acceptance for the first time in her musical career.

While the re-mastered version of the original album sounds remarkably clean, it probably wouldn't have warranted many to replace their old CDs. But with the inclusion of the additional Stripped Down CD it turns this into a must-have collection for fans of Lennon, The Beatles and, yes, even Yoko. One of the great things is that these aren't rough, acoustic working-versions, but rather fully realized, full-band arrangements and productions. They were smartly re-mixed by the album's original producer Jack Douglas and Ono - cutting out some the glossy early '80s electro-sheen, and instead delivering simpler, more natural sounding arrangements, while also pushing the vocals where they originally belonged - loud and clear in the forefront of these tracks. It all gives these already extremely autobiographical songs from both John & Yoko an even warmer and more intimate vibe, which I, for one, actually prefer over the original album's production. And to bring the whole package full-circle, Sean Lennon even illustrated the front and back of the CD cover with a whimsical pencil drawing of the album's original artwork. I believe John would have approved of this entire project whole-heartedly.

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