There is a widening chasm between the necessity of re-releasing classic albums and the compulsion to feed off the bleached bones of departed icons. With the former, conventional marketing logic follows that an album’s importance will be revisited with quality bonus material, including extra tracks and enhanced liner note essays. With the latter, the re-release is a poorly disguised attempt to push product on name recognition alone, a practice that smacks of gratuitous opportunism, particularly when the album in question does not merit re-release status.
Such is the case with Rock ‘n’ Roll, an interesting, albeit unspectacular recording from John Lennon’s mid-‘70s solo career. Five years removed from the official demise of the Beatles, Lennon had established himself as a quirky musical activist, and the antithesis of his Fab Four persona. Somewhat eccentric, but always outspoken and creative, Lennon released a solo album each of the previous years, with overall mixed results. The perplexing Plastic Ono Band recordings were balanced by more accessible material from Imagine and Mind Games, as Lennon had the personal and professional clout to do what he chose, irrespective of the end result or prevailing public opinion.
With Rock ‘n’ Roll, Lennon stepped back into his past and saluted some of his own musical heroes. The original album featured a baker’s dozen of tracks, each finding Lennon in apparent good humor, jamming and enjoying the studio moments. As with his previous individual efforts, however, Lennon lacked consistency, on the mark as often as he was off. The energized renditions of “Be-Bop-A-Lula” and “Peggy Sue” are tempered by bloated orchestrations of “Ain’t That a Shame” and “Do You Want to Dance?”, while the slow motion take on “Bony Maronie” is not exactly enjoyable. The most noteworthy aspect of the album was the involvement of Phil Spector, whose mere presence assured controversy. Although not behind the console for every track, Spector’s fingerprints are obvious throughout, contributing further to the overall haphazard feel of the production.
Consistent with the pedestrian stature of the album is the reissue inclusion of a paltry four bonus tracks, all of which add nothing of discernible value. In actuality, the tracks tarnish Lennon’s efforts as they are, for the most part, ponderous, with “To Know Her Is to Love Her” entering the sonic region of excruciating. An album of promising tributes seemingly veered off into self-absorbed excess, with the former Beatle indulging himself unnecessarily.
As Rock ‘n’ Roll is not one of Lennon’s finest moments, its greatest appeal lies with his most ardent supporters, those who enjoy hearing their hero creating for the sake of creating. Thus, the reissued version will be attractive to such loyalists inclined to purchase any previously unreleased track or rarity, although it offers a minimal amount of extras. For everyone else however, Rock ‘n’ Roll is not a mandatory part of their respective collections, and relegates the reissue to afterthought status.