Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Yoko Ono

  • Season of Glass [Geffen, 1981] A-
  • It's Alright [Polydor, 1982] B-
  • Starpeace [Polydor, 1985] B-
  • Walking on Thin Ice [Rykodisc, 1992] A
  • New York Rock [Capitol, 1995] D+
  • Blueprint for a Surprise [Capitol, 2001] *

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Season of Glass [Geffen, 1981]
The little voice "chokes" and "crackles" (her words), the production relies on the usual sessioneers (Newmark, McCracken, yawn), and the composition is elementary (not primal). Yet damn near every song is affecting, and the segue from "Extension 33"'s retrospective irony to "No, No, No"'s cut-off vulnerability positively gut-wrenching. After all, we've never heard a forty-eight-year-old learn to rock (not rock and roll) before. Or a widow's concept album, either. A-

It's Alright [Polydor, 1982]
Supposedly a big shrewdie, Yoko is transcendently simplistic at the core, which in many ways worked better when she was an avant-gardist than it does in her belated pop phase. This somewhat presumptuous message of hope to the world is cunningly devised around the edges--she exploits the studio with fifty years' and countless dollars' worth of childlike delight. but back at the core, the singing and the songs are more one-dimensional than good pop ever is. B-

Starpeace [Polydor, 1985]
Bill Laswell looked like the perfect choice to assist Yoko's rebound from It's Alright, especially given his commitment to non-Western music and his penchant for avant-gardists, mostly jazzmen but a few of Yoko's ilk. But despite unfailingly humorless lyrics and the skillful input of Laswell regulars from Aiyb Dieng to Anton Fier, the result is insistently, self-consciously, and rather clumsily light in the head. Often it tries to be cute, which is difficult for anyone and utterly impossibly for Laswell, who isn't exactly a froth specialist. Sure he helps with the hooks and beats, that's his job, but the overall effect is as joyless as the kind of record Toto might cut for a girlfriend of their manager's--the soulless studio-rock anti-intellectuals have always accused him of making. Great exception: "You and I," a silly love song for Sean. B-

Walking on Thin Ice [Rykodisc, 1992]
Four CDs of Patsy nod me out, four of Aretha make me wonder, but six of Onobox get me going. Often not great and sometimes awful, they brim with previously unheard or unnoticed highs. This 19-cut condensation skips the educational stuff and ought to convert anybody with better taste than Albert Goldman--namely, you. As a student of Western composition, an adept of Japanese vocal technique, and an avant-gardist sworn to throw convention to the wind, Yoko was unready to rock three different ways. Yet on the four early songs the transparent simplicity she strives for sounds truer than the dumb authenticity of Elephant's Memory, and by the '80s she's mastered a studio-rock art-pop whose unremarkable timbres and textures are subtly transformed by her inappropriate training. A transparently simple, transcendently self-conscious triumph of the will--and of the "Woman Power" she was corny and prophetic enough to crow about back when she was the weirdo who broke up the Beatles. A

New York Rock [Capitol, 1995]
It's reassuring that she came back to cut the album of her life, because this doomed musical's utter absence of pop instinct had me assuming the worst--that she was past learning what it means to communicate with an audience, that she'd twisted her angel's arm, that she didn't respect her own songs. Not only did she lack the modesty to stick with the best, she betrayed the good ones. The arrangements are dreck, and the performances--oy. Eminences from Rosanne Cash to the B-52's have covered her with the love she deserves, but the canniest Broadway belter would wreck material so sensibility-specific, and these unknowns are the kind they call hopefuls because deludeds wouldn't have the right ring. D+

Blueprint for a Surprise [Capitol, 2001]
avant-minimalist and pop-simplistic, Japanese and English, old and new--all is one ("I'm Not Getting Enough," "Rise II") *

Further Notes:

Subjects for Further Research [1970s]: She tried to go pop eventually, but only after a long layoff, on 1980's Double Fantasy, did she get it right. Before that came scads of avant-garde fiddle-faddle. Much of this--try "Fly"--is still unlistenable, some "interesting" in the wake of Eno-style ersatz ethnicity. But on parts of her Plastic Ono Band--"Why," featuring John and Ringo, more than "AOS," featuring Ornette--she anticipated punk jazz by a decade.

See Also