Yoko Ono Warzone

[Chimera; 2018]

Styles: pop, experimental, rock
Others: Yeezus, Scott Walker

The first track of Yoko Ono’s Warzone begins the same way as “MOONBEAMS” from her 2013 album TAKE ME TO THE LAND OF HELL: distant safari noises merge with an ominous ether of sound courtesy of an unnerving synthesizer. The former song “Warzone” also incorporates the sound of gunfire and Ono’s panicked, remote wail, where the latter’s intro builds momentum with the singer’s spoken word lyrics. But while “MOONBEAMS” eventually gives way to bombast in the form of a psych-rock salvo and Ono’s caterwauling abandon, “Warzone” takes a more bathetic approach. Stark piano bass notes repeat monotonously as Ono pronounces, without inflection, “Warzone, warzone, we’re living in a warzone.”

On Warzone, a collection of rerecorded songs from Ono’s catalogue spanning the last five decades of her career, images of war, strife, and iniquity aren’t so much conjured as they’re merely suggested. Yoko’s voice has rarely sounded so subdued as she muses on the abject state of sociopolitics; “If we sweep the bottom of the rivers/ We’ll find bodies that shouldn’t be there,” goes one line on “Where Do We Go from Here,” lacking the necessary virility to shake any listener to action. Even during the more upbeat “I Love All of Me” — which details the inner conflict of the Individual and serves to show that self-doubt and insecurity aren’t just affected provinces of the maudlin and the privileged — her vocals refuse to bend with the song. A simple melody carries throughout with an endearing childlike delivery, but still lacks a certain vitality that the song demands.

But the album’s greatest triumph is in its flow. After its first few tracks offer rhetorical questions to combat the ills of the world (“Are we gonna be remembered as the century that failed?” “When will we come to realize we’re all stoned or pacified?” “Where do we go from here?”) that feel doomed to remain unanswered, Warzone becomes more practical in its political philosophy. Both “Woman Power” and “Children Power” act as the most concrete panacea to the issues posed on the record’s first half. With its rehashed blues rock guitar, “Woman” contains the greatest amount of vim on Warzone, signaling the sanguine turn the rest of the album will come to take. As the songs rise and fall, some sentimental, some austere, it sounds as if Ono has successfully pinpointed crucial moments in her musical career that make a deliberate statement, even if the execution of the individual songs is occasionally dubious.

Maybe Warzone is better understood as a deep-cut career retrospective than a singular album. Despite its stylistic consistency, the record is uneven and only its closing track, a reworking of “Imagine,” will ring any bells to those casually familiar with Ono’s work. The songs here won’t conciliate any cynics who dismissed her before ever hearing a single note of her music, either. Regardless of the context, however, it’s an album of complex symbiosis. After years working as an experimental pop bellwether and then taking cues from the boundary-pushing artists she inspired decades later, Yoko Ono has produced an album that mediates between a global and personal past and future. The former is uncomfortable and the latter uncertain. War is Hell in Paradise.

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