Exhilarating, vibrant, avant-garde: an entirely listenable offering from Yoko Ono.
Twenty albums in 50 years isn’t too shabby. This is the kind of release schedule that has made Yoko Ono revered by peers, fans and critics alike. That and a devotion to pushing boundaries, hers and the audience’s, while staying true to her values and art ascetics that brought the world into focus on her in the mid-1960’s. It’s this kind of dedication to the avant-garde, and the past, that is at the forefront of her latest album ‘Warzone’. It’s safe to say that ‘Warzone’ is Ono’s
most personal and captivating album in years, which is no small feat, but it’s also one of her most accessible, once you give it some breathing room and try not to force it to your ideas of what an album should be in 2018.
The title track ‘Warzone’ sets the tone for the album perfectly. Opening to the sounds of gunfire, elephants screeching, before a funeral march-esque bassline starts up. Ono’s vocals suddenly enter the mix. A spoken word piece about how we’re living in a war zone, but there is still hope. While it’s a pretty conventional delivery, there are hints at her visceral, screeching past. And this is the point of the album. To remind you of her place in history, musically and culturally, and to reinforce it. To show her relevance not only as a musician and artist but as a human who has strived for peace for the last 50 years.
‘Now or Never’ starts off slightly melancholic as Ono explains how we have to stop going the way we are before it’s too late. ‘Woman Power’ is a standout moment full of crunching 70’s guitars and tight drums, but a vocal delivery that cuts the listener to the core, as Yoko Ono describes “2000 years of male society. Laying fear and tyranny” and “You know one day you lost your way man. Do you know that someday you’ll have to pay man”. ‘Why’ is the kind of abstract soundscape that the album previous hinted at. As she screams and yells ‘Why!’ animal sounds and distressed synths swirl about her creating a feeling of unease and disconnect. The album closes with ‘Imagine’. This isn’t a cover of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, but more of a reinterpretation.
‘Warzone’ fits into that part of Ono’s back catalogue with ‘Yes, I’m a Witch’, but instead of asking musicians to represent a track from her back catalogue, Yoko Ono herself is reinventing herself. A line from here, a theme from there, a melody from somewhere else, and there is a new song. Overall it feels fresh and when it works ‘Warzone’ it’s an exhilarating and vibrant thing. It taps into that special vein of music that is avant-garde, but listenable. This is that place where the recent Scott Walker, Lou Reed and David Bowie albums reside. The songs are thought-provoking but don’t get lost in their message. They remember that the audience needs to be entertained while the main themes are put across. They generally believe in what they’re saying and try to offer solutions so to how things can get better. Tracks like ‘Hell in Paradise' tap into Ono’s musical and cultural background, part of her being a freedom fighter for peace. However, when the album doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work. Sometimes drifting into a hodgepodge of unrealised ideas and cacophonous vocals, tied up with trying to be too clever and smart for its own good. Which is a shame, as there is a great album in there; it just gets slightly lost under its weighty ideas and avant-garde production.
Listen to WARZONE by Yoko Ono in full below