In memorium, my defense of one of Lennon’s most reviled solo albums.
It’s hard to understand why anyone would believe (as some do) that Lennon was the target of a right-wing conspiracy that culminated in his assassination. That is, until you hear this album, where he and Yoko make their leftist political views the subject matter of some of Lennon’s most abrasive, confrontational songwriting (and that includes the wildly overrated Plastic Ono Band). It’s almost inconceivable while listening to this record to think that Lennon would subsequently be deified in the commercial pantheon, that his image and his music would be used to shill for Apple Computers and Nike, though it would be wonderful to watch corporate America attempt to appropriate some of these ditties: perhaps the Gap could use “Woman is the Nigger of the World” in one of their choreographed multicultural TV commercial atrocities, letting girls gyrate over Lennon’s primal scream of “We make them paint their face and daaance!” The political content on this album is so intense and inflammatory that most critics (who are typically quietists who foist on us a reactionary bourgeois aesthetics of political indifference while performing their roles as boosters for the record industry or apologists for the status quo) don’t even bother to condemn it as propaganda, they simply pretend it doesn’t exist. Of course it’s obviously propaganda, unrepentantly so, and aided by Spector’s unrelenting, overwhelming production, it tirelessly agitates for the causes of Irish independence, prison reform, feminism, and the right for Yoko to warble atonally for an eternity and have it be called music. The pleasure of hearing a major star go out on a limb for righteous causes is substantial enough, but the music is compelling, too, particularly Lennon’s fiery takes on “Cold Turkey” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go”. And the 16-minute “Don’t Worry Kyoko” is the ultimate room-clearer—if you ever encounter it on one of those annoying jukeboxes with seventeen zillion songs on it, play it repeatedly.
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