Yoko Ono: Open Your Box

[2 April 2007]

By Dan Raper

Aargh, Yoko, why do you have to continually frustrate us? Just as we were gearing up to liking you again, or at least offering you a long-awaited (and well-deserved) accolade or two, you undermine us. What I mean is, if the recent collaboration album Yes, I’m a Witch was a model for update and reinterpretation of previously overlooked material, Open Your Box, the companion remix album, exhibits almost every flaw that haunts this fraught genre.

I have to say, it’s hardly Ono’s fault. Because if Yes, I’m a Witch was a smashing together of Ono’s warbly voice and a crush of modernity –- or at least, entirely familiar indie artists’ characteristic styles –- it was at least half her own. But on this new disc, more often than not Ono’s greatest asset is cut to pieces, shrouded in echoes, or reduced to an almost meaningless snippet. The conception is Ono-turned-dance of course, but the traditional idea of the remix offered to us here leaves little room for the ‘Ono’ and most for the ‘dance’. Which could have been fine if the tracks worked as dance music, judged on their own merits.

Mostly, these remixes tread old ground, from straight house to commercial house to tinged electro-house, wasting the potentially differentiating asset of Ono’s music. Maybe these remixers, who include some relatively big names in both commercial dance and clubland, have an abnormally high level of respect for their source, or maybe they’ve allowed it to colour their usual uniqueness, turning them into clones of pop-dance Yoko Onophiles, round and round like those Daft Punk skeletons.

A few cuts rise above the boom boom house monotony. Ironically, the two reworkings of “Everyman Everywoman” are among the best. Basement Jaxx’s “Classic Mix” is a toned-down headphone ping-pong with an intricate interplay of synths in the chorus. Murk’s “Space Mix” is a fuller and higher energy cut that incorporates a fanfare-like trumpet reminiscent of recent M.I.A. “Walking on Thin Ice (Felix Da Housecat’s Tribute Mix)”. It’s hardly groundbreaking work for the well-known house producer, but is at least characteristically funky, with shuffling percussion and an effective shrouding of Ono’s voice.

But throughout most of the rest of Open Your Box, we just get a string of underwhelming commercial house tracks with little differentiation. Pet Shop Boys’ version of “Walking on Thin Ice” is soulless synth-and-echoey-vocals. “Yang Yang” is turned into a straight vocorder-style Ministry of Sound track, its squelching electro already somehow tired-sounding. Superchumbo’s remix of “Kiss Kiss” is similarly enthusiastic on the surface, but somehow comes out feeling a flimsy, like a soccer anthem from a World Cup compilation. The Peaches re-imagining of the track from Yes, I’m a Witch leaves this version for dead. And you probably wouldn’t expect too much from a Tenaglia cut, but the bigger point is, we should be expecting something more from the follow-up to an entirely successful re-working endeavour.

So Open Your Box is a failure of comparison, and of expectation. If you’re curious about this newly-talked about 75-year-old, look into the disc from earlier this year, but skip this one. As mentioned above, it’s hardly Ono’s fault -– a lack of judgment, perhaps. Worse than the varied ideas at the base of these songs is the homogeneity of mediocre dance music. In the world of electronica, no matter what the source material, there’s far more compelling stuff out there.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/yoko-ono-open-your-box/