Now 85 years old, Yoko Ono has been reinterpreting her considerable catalogue (twenty albums and counting) since at least the early 00s. Startlingly, she is now the 11th most successful dance club artist of all time, with her distinctively untamed vocal style finding the perfect foil in the rigidity of house and techno, and remixes by the likes of Pet Shop Boys breathing new life into classics like ‘Walking On Thin Ice’.
Not that this should come as any surprise, because Ono’s music, like her work in general, has always been disarmingly open to interpretation. For 2007’s ‘Yes I’m A Witch’ and it’s follow up ‘Yes I’m A Witch Too’ she was joined by the likes of Peaches, Cat Power and The Flaming Lips for a fun trawl through her archives, and she continues in this spirit with Warzone, albeit without the all star backing this time around, opting instead for a stripped back, almost lo-fi approach.
The opener and title track dispenses with the generic dirge metal backing of the original (from 1995’s ‘Rising’) opting instead for pound shop animal sounds (squawking crows, trumpeting elephants) and machine gun effects to hammer home its fairly blunt message about the state of the world.
Side one progresses in the same thematic vein, revisiting ‘Why?’ from 1970’s ‘Plastic Ono Band’ along the way and finding Ono still able to unleash her terrifically witchy wail at will. ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ (the first of several covers from 1985’s ‘Starpeace’) is probably the standout here, showcasing a lyrical wit to rival Ivor Cutler with lines like: “You say life is a bowl of cherries / You give me a bowl of pits / The pits will grow into trees one day / I’m getting my cherries anyway…”
The production is minimal throughout, often foregrounding Ono’s one take vocals against naive sounding guitar and piano backdrops. Side Two showcases Ono’s childlike side and is much more fun. Album highlight ‘Children Power’ sounds like a terrified twee-pop band backing an octogenarian Japanese witch without having had time to practice beforehand. ‘I Love All Of Me’ has more great lyrics: “I’m a small guy/ My friends call me an armrest/I’m a big girl/ My friends call me a waterbed”.
The closer, almost inevitably, is a cover of ‘Imagine’. Ono sings it like a torch song in an empty karaoke bar, a sweetly affecting reading that restores much of the emotional power to the original just when you thought it had been done to death.
Dig This? Dig Deeper! Laurie Anderson, Scott Walker, Ivor Cutler
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