John Lennon / Yoko Ono - Double Fantasy / Stripped Down

John Lennon / Yoko Ono
Double Fantasy / Stripped Down

(Capitol)

First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2010, Volume 17, #12

Written by John Metzger

Wed December 15, 2010, 06:30 AM CST

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John Lennonís post-Beatles days famously were filled with turmoil. When he wasnít busy fighting for peace and love, he was battling the U.S. Government as well as his own demons. Eventually, even his marriage began to crumble. Estranged from Yoko Ono, who had been the center of his universe, Lennon moved to Los Angeles in 1973. At Onoís insistence, he took his personal assistant along for companionship, and almost immediately, their relationship grew intimate. On his 1974 set Walls and Bridges, Lennon provided an outline of his conflicted emotional state. Under the threat of a lawsuit, he also assembled Rock & Roll, a collection of cover songs that was recorded over the course of several chaotic, alcohol-fueled sessions. The former endeavor was solid; the latter one was an endearing mess. Either way, it was easy to sense that all was not well in Lennonís world.

By 1975, however, Lennon was ready to put his life in order. Not only did he and Ono reconcile their differences, but he also abruptly abandoned the music business. The couple had a son, whom they named Sean, and Lennon reveled in his roles as a husband and father. Nevertheless, it wasnít until five years later, while he was sailing from Rhode Island to Bermuda, that he was inspired to resume writing songs. Naturally, he wanted Ono to be a part of the project, and returning to the format in which he unofficially had begun his solo career, Lennon forged a collaborative partnership with his wife. In less than a month, they had accumulated enough material for two albums.

Double Fantasy, the first of these efforts, was issued in November 1980. A few weeks later, Lennon was shot and killed outside his home in New York City, making the completion of the second outing a challenge, though ó as the subsequent release of Milk and Honey proved ó not necessarily one that was impossible to achieve. Of course, it would have been a tragedy no matter when Lennon was murdered. The timing of his death, however, seemed particularly cruel considering that, at long last, he not only had resumed his music career but also had found solace in the arms of his wife and son.

Although Double Fantasy wasnít greeted with unanimous praise, much of the criticism of the outing faded quickly after Lennonís demise. Some of the harshest comments about the endeavor were retracted before they were even published. Double Fantasy might have been disappointing, but out of respect for Lennonís legacy, no one wanted to throw stones at his final statement. Instead, snide remarks were aimed at Ono, who not only shared equal billing but also penned and sang half of the setís tracks.

Regardless, Double Fantasy always held a lot of merit. The key to understanding it, however, was to listen to the outing in its entirety, from start to finish. Not only were Onoís songs better than they initially were made out to be, but they also completed the conceptual nature of the project. By alternating tracks, the couple established a musical conversation that traced the five-year stretch during which they overcame their anger and rediscovered their passion for each other. Lennon was the apologetic husband who discovered domestic bliss while trying to win back his wifeís affections; Ono was the scorned woman whose love never wavered even as she required proof of her spouseís devotion.

Arguably, the problems with Double Fantasy didnít really lie with its material. Rather, they emanated from the arrangements that Lennon, Ono, and co-producer Jack Douglas had employed. In effect, the outingís strengths were obscured by its polished architecture. In some ways, the final version of Double Fantasy boasted attempts to Beatle-ize many of its tracks, updating the stylistic approach to fit within the context of the era in which the album was made.

Had he survived, Lennon would have turned 70 this year. To honor the occasion, several new retrospectives were assembled (Power to the People: The Hits, Gimme Some Truth, John Lennon Signature Box). Likewise, the commercially viable outings from his catalogue were reissued. Wisely, Ono and Douglas also revisited Double Fantasy and opted to create Stripped Down, a companion piece that removes all of the so-called enhancements that were put in place during the completion of the original recording.

Consequently, Stripped Down will be a revelation for many. There is a certain level of purity to the newly minted endeavor, and it often seems as if this is the way in which it was meant to be heard. By emphasizing Lennonís vocals, the albumís conversational tone is enhanced, its emotional core is magnified, and its overarching storyline is better framed. As a result, Stripped Down also reveals how intimate and personal Double Fantasy really was. A dark, moody outlook clings to Iím Losing You as Lennonís frustration and anger come to a boil, while Woman finds him pleading for forgiveness. With Iím Moving On, Ono answers the former track with her own biting response, and between Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him and Hard Times Are Over, she shifts from haunting uncertainty to acceptance and salvation.

In the liner notes she wrote for the updated version of Double Fantasy, Ono suggests that the albumís contents are as immediate as the material on Plastic Ono Band. Some might scoff at this notion, and based solely upon the original rendition of the album, they would have good reason to doubt her claim. Nevertheless, although Double Fantasy has its flaws, Stripped Down largely supports her statement. As it turns out, Lennonís creative resurgence was bigger than anyone initially thought. starstarstarstarstar

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Of Further Interest...

George Harrison - Brainwashed

Paul McCartney - Memory Almost Full

Ringo Starr - Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr

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Double Fantasy / Stripped Down is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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Copyright © 2010 The Music Box