Friday, July 4, 2008

primal scream

John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band. Just what exactly did Phil Spector do to earn his ‘produced by’ credit for John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band? I ask the question like this not to be snide or dismissive but instead to underscore the record’s minimalist feel, which may or may not have come as a bit of a surprise to those expecting cloying string arrangements and a fulsome Wall of Sound. As far as I know, the tracks feature John on vocals and guitar, Klaus Voormann on bass, and Ringo on drums. Billy Preston adds some understated piano on one song as well. But that’s it. It sounds like Spector simply pressed ‘record’ and captured the players doing the songs live in the studio. The stripped down immediacy allows John to return to his rocker roots and create a collection of songs that are confessional, acutely aware of the historical moment, and nothing short of devastating.

Throughout John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, the sparse sound works to emphasize the exhaustion of a grandiose era, and it gives John room to welcome the Great Collapse in terms that are at times barbed and dripping with ridicule. ‘I told you before,’ he snarls on “I Found Out”, accompanied by a jagged sounding guitar, ‘stay away from my door, don’t gimme that “brother, brother, brother.”’ So much for love and togetherness. …Even on the songs that are less directly about John’s place in a changing public world than they are about his psycho-emotional predispositions, there’s a confrontational violence to the approach, the beginnings of which admittedly date back to the White Album, but which now unequivocally express a rejection of pacifistic naivetee. With the ungodly primal screams unleashed on “Well, Well, Well” and “Mother”, John works to exorcize personal demons, but he’s also purging the history he’s played such an enormous role in making. But the climax of the purge, if it can be put this way, comes on “God” when he sings, ‘I don’t believe in Beatles’, which is among the most jaw dropping lines he ever wrote and one which made it possible for him to also say what by then was ever more obvious… ‘The dream is over.’

Happy Fourth of July to all my friends and family.

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