Though only recorded a little over a decade from their first collaborative efforts, the recordings of Yoko Ono and husband John Lennon on 1980’s Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey (released after Lennon’s death) are a far cry from the experimental drivel on Two Virgins, Life with Lions and Wedding Album. That said, there’s still a stark contrast between the two, with Ono’s contributions much more musically adventurous than Lennon’s radio-ready singles. “Kiss Kiss Kiss” is pure post-punk/funk, with Ono warbling away on the chorus like Poly Styrene backed by much more capable musicians. Having roughly divided the album in half, more or less alternating tracks, Lennon and Ono’s disparate styles make for a far from cohesive listen. In all likelihood, had Lennon not been gunned down shortly after the release of Double Fantasy, it would’ve been written off as little more than a vanity project.

But instead, it become a cultural touchstone of sorts, Lennon returning to performing for the first time in years after taking time off to raise their son, Sean, and then murdered shortly thereafter. And while his contributions are far more well-known, Ono’s songs – maligned by fans and critics alike as usual – are genuinely exciting. “Give Me Something” sounds like a cleaned up version of the Contortions, the downtown avant-garde/post-punk/No Wave scene clearly having an impact on the more forward-thinking Ono. Similarly, “I’m Moving On” opens with a bit of guitar scree that is the epitome of the confrontational No Wave sound before settling into a jittery funk groove that is the yin to Lennon’s yang, “I’m Losing You.”

Only “Yes, I’m Your Angel” recalls the pair’s earliest recordings with its field recording-style introduction before shuffling on as a Harry Nilsson-esque cabaret tune. It’s a fine example of Ono showcasing a competent, if not truly professional, vocal take in which she sings the entirety of the song rather than deploy any of her trademark shrieks and vocal tics. Even “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him,” the only track that sounds much like anything Lennon contributes herein, has an edge to it, the groove riding a sort of disco-reggae groove cut through by an unsettling solo section that sounds like a nightmare crammed into a pop song.

Where Double Fantasy is a polished, radio-ready set of tunes from Lennon and Ono’s idiosyncratic contributions, Milk and Honey – at least in terms of Ono’s contributions – is a much rawer set of songs. Released a year after Lennon’s assassination, Milk and Honey represents what was to be the second of a proposed two-album release schedule, the tracks having been recorded concurrently with those of Double Fantasy. Here, again, Ono is clearly under the influence of the post-punk movement, with “Don’t Be Scared” coming off as a slightly more polished version of the Slits, built around spartan reggae riddims. Similarly, “Your Hands” sounds like a liberally rewritten version of Talking Heads’ “Heaven” from the production to the ethereal tone of the music itself.

“Let Me Count the Ways” shows the album’s warts-and-all approach, sounding like a piano and vocals demo that was left unfinished following Lennon’s death. Leaving these recordings as they were captured and refraining from adding anything helps preserve the integrity of the pair’s creative relationship, making its delicate intimacy all the more heart-breaking. When she sings of Lennon always being there for her, his absence becomes almost palpable as the final piano chord fades out. Closing track “You’re the One” forgoes sentimentality entirely and hints at where Ono would be heading as she herself continued recording into the new decade. Additionally, with Ono’s being the last voice represented on the record, Milk and Honey serves as a bridge between her life with Lennon and her having to move forward following the tragic events of that December day with a life and career wholly her own. With “You’re the One,” she showed she was well on her way.

One Comment

  1. Jim Anderson

    July 21, 2021 at 1:32 pm

    Ono was always a talented artist, Beatles fans aren’t automatically going to be fans of Avant Garde performance and modern art, they just don’t get Yoko, but John did. the idea she disrupted the massive egos of McCartney and Lennon is laughable.. they wrote around 300 songs together I believe, this is quite unusual in music, was always more than likely they would split, who really cares anyway, macca wanted to do his granny music, so he did.

    Really Ono should have dumped Lennon creatively and got her own band together, her musical work is easily as good as any other similar, punk, post punk, new wave stuff of the era, that has been given cult status.

    Good article, glad someone is fighting the Beatlemaniacs misogynistic nonsense.
    Maybe the Peter Jackson docu series will shed more light on the end days of an iconic band.

    Reply

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