Review Summary: Yoko Ono's new effort, early front-runner for 2007's best album? You better believe it.
Let's turn the clock back 5 years. Imagine I've just told you that the new Yoko Ono album has recieved a lot of critical acclaim. Imagine I've told you that it features such cult heroes as Cat Power, DJ Spooky, Steven Wilson, and members of The Flaming Lips, Public Enemy, The Apples In Stereo, and Spiritualized. And imagine I've told you that it's an electronica album that is genuinely funky and sexy.
LET'S SEND FOR THE FUNNY FARM GUYS
Amazingly, it's 2007, and Yoko Ono is suddenly hot property. There's something beautiful about that for me personally; I've long maintained the opinion that Yoko Ono was just about the best thing that happened to John Lennon, save Paul McCartney, and that the hate aimed at her by the masses is ignorant bull***. Now, it seems, the tide is turning, and people are beginning to agree with me. Or, at the very least, they're giving Yoko a chance.
Yes, I'm A Witch
(what a title!) is a remix album, with a twist. While the essential premise is typical, in that artists have been called in to remix old Yoko Ono songs, Ono has been involved in every stage of the process, so it's actually more along the lines of a duets album. So it's only natural to expect that this will sound much like another Ono studio album, and that it will probably be as inconsistent and frustrating as most remix albums (and most duets albums, for that matter). The truth is much the opposite.
While much has been made of the fact that Ono's had control over the project, it's undeniable that each of these remixes bears the imprint of the artist making the guest appearance. In fact, in nearly every case, these songs could have slipped easily into studio albums by the artists in question; a feeling helped by the fact that nearly every remix here uses only the vocals from the original. Observe Le Tigre's low-budget electro take on the feminist tract "Sisters O Sisters", or Steven Wilson's atosmpheric, mostly acoustic "Death of Samantha", which sounds like a Blackfield track, and it even uses the same vocal filter Wilson's so fond of using on Porcupine Tree material. The Peaches take on "Kiss Kiss Kiss" is as spastic and agressively sexual as the rest of her stuff (only it's better). DJ Spooky renders "Rising" as a bass-heavy dubby funk workout, using Ono's original avant-garde vocal almost as he might use a theremin riff, making the entire thing little short of a trip-hop masterpiece. "Toy Boat" features the unmistakable vocals of Antony Hegarty, and has the same sense of grace and gentle melody as he's become famous for, even if the music - more electronic that Antony & The Johnsons fans will be used to from him - does vaguely suggest Enya. And so on. The Flaming Lips even slap their trademark distorted drums behind a melody they've described as 'Ornette Coleman-esque' on "Cambridge 1969/2007", and used a bass ostinato reminiscent of "It Overtakes Me", from 2006's At War With The Mystics
. In her collaboration with The Brother Brothers (never heard of them before, sadly), she's even created a stomping, swaggering hard rock beast of a song that re-interprets her vocal from 1974's A Story
as a statement of intent as persuasive as any, as Ono casually states her case thusly:
Yes, I'm a witch,
I'm a bitch
I dont care what you say,
My voice is real.
My voice speaks truth,
I dont fit in your ways.
Im not gonna die for you,
You might as well face the truth,
Im gonna stick around for quite a while.
Perhaps annoying to read in print, but you'd better believe it's convincing on record.
Even I, an Ono supporter who enjoys the stuff he's heard of her catalogue of work, am shocked by how good this record is. It's just about everything you could ask for from an album - diverse, cohesive, and without a single weak point. If anything here does slip in quality, it's Jason Pierce's "Walking On Thin Ice" - a track that doesn't bode well for the new Spiritualized album. Still, it almost slips by un-noticed. Nobody here is phoning their performance in, and at times you really get the feeling that everybody involved thinks that they're part of something special here. Perhaps, that's where Ono's control over the project manifests itself most tellingly. Hopefully, the results here will lead to a re-assessment of Ono's work, or at least the acknowledgement that her own half of Plastic Ono Band
was a watershed moment in the history of female artists in rock music.
Ono fans need it, fans of any of these artists need it, and anyone with an interest with electronica should be compelled to track it down too, content in the knowledge that the album strikes an impressive balance between eradicating the avant-garde tendencies of the original material and making it accessible for a new audience, without sacrificing the sense of wide-eyed experimentation that makes the best avant-garde music so thrilling. It's a wonderful album, what more can I say?