Walls and Bridges (1974)
Recorded during John Lennon’s infamous “Lost Weekend”, in which he and Yoko Ono separated for 18 months, Walls and Bridges shows the insecurities and fleeting jubilations of a man adrift. Many of the album’s songs deconstruct older musical forms, including doo-wop, gospel, and ragtime. Irregular time signatures and dynamic variability are coupled with lush harmonies, Lennon’s honky-tonk inflected piano, a forward-mixed brass section, and gorgeously arranged strings. The album’s moods run the gamut, sounding tensely restless in “What You Got” and “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, and calm as in “Bless You”, “Old Dirt Road”, and “Dream #9”.
As is typical of Lennon’s more experimental fare, his inborn rock sensibilities and experimental forms only occasionally piece together to comprise an effective pastiche. While Walls and Bridges‘ orchestrations and formal experimentations are always interesting, the album is perhaps most notable in filling in the emotional landscape of this important moment in Lennon’s biography. Only on “Dream #9” does the album scale the brilliance of which the artist was so eminently capable.
“Dream #9” is interesting for being a song written from Lennon’s biography while not referencing any of the familiar characters, Yoko, Paul, Julia, or Sean. The song recounts a dream in which spirits “called out [his] name”, while chanting a chorus of an imagined language, “Ah! Bowakawa pousse, pousse!” His recounting is as dreamy as the scene described lyrically, spoken in half-sentences and repetitions. However, the song’s great emotional impact comes from the strings’ narrative involvement. Sometimes, mirroring the lead vocals in call and response, other times offering harmonistic textures, the strings invoke the spirits that Lennon describes as always hovering nearby, speaking a language all their own. — Nathan Pensky