Saturday, 29 September 2018

John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band (1970)


Released December 1970

Recorded in London and Berkshire

This is a raw, edgy and angst-ridden solo album from John Lennon, his first "proper" solo piece of work. Lennon explores all sorts of mother and parental issues, anxiety about relationships and some cynical, political protest thrown in.

It is musically basic - guitar, bass and drums for the most part with occasional piano and keyboards. Its sparse sound adds to its appeal for me, I always found parts of "Imagine" to be somewhat over-orchestrated. Old mate Ringo Starr is on drums throughout, giving it considerable gravitas.

"Mother" is a yearning, heartfelt opener with anguished vocals and a great backing sound to it. "Hold On" has an absolutely sumptuous bass on it from the talented Klaus Voorman. "I Found Out" is bluesy and confrontational and has Lennon shocking the world when he sings of "some of you sitting there with your cock in your hand...". This was pretty racy stuff for 1970. This was Lennon at his most scathing and world-weary. "Working Class Hero" continues the mood brilliantly, as Lennon channels his inner Dylan and produces are superbly cynical protest song. There is no doubt by now the Lennon's world is not a particularly happy one, despite his apparent bedroom bliss with Yoko Ono. The bleak ballad, "Isolation", only serves to reinforce that feeling. The album's cover shows a pastoral, peaceful scene, much like Wings' "Wild Life". This was anything but a relaxed album.

"Remember" is musically upbeat, with a pounding drum sound, augmented by a clunky piano. Again, though, it is a questioning song, one of disillusion. It actually has hints of McCartney about it, for me.  As indeed does the tender "Love", the first chilled-out love song on the album. The buzzy guitar-driven "Well Well Well" has echoes of "The White Album" in some ways. Maybe it is Ringo's muscular but rhythmic drumming. It is supposed to be a song about Lennon's daily life with Yoko. It ends with him screaming. Read into that what you will about his state of mind. He was always an impossible person to read.

"Look At Me" is acoustically beautiful, Beatles-esque, but is deeply self-analytical once more. Having questioned his entire existence and his life, there can be only one more thing to question - God. The track bearing the deity's name is a marvellous slice of Lennon cynicism sung over a stark piano, bass and drum backing. "God is a concept by which we measure our pain...". Heavy stuff Lennon then proceeds to list everything he doesn't believe in, incredibly convincingly and aggressively, eschewing, amongst other things, all the guru stuff, then Elvis and Dylan, until finally saying "I don't believe in Beatles...". This was possibly Lennon's most powerful, post-Beatles song of all. "I was the walrus, but now I'm John...". What a great line. What a moving song.

Personally, I find the short, painful "My Mummy's Dead" to be unlistenable, so I do not include it when playing the album digitally, replacing it with the two chanting protest songs, "Power To The People" and "Give Peace A Chance". So, for me, "God" is followed by the fist-pumping unity of "Power To The People". I find that quite apt. I do understand, though, "Mummy"'s vital position on the original album, ending it on a starkly disturbing, anguishing note.


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