Rising sounds incredibly dated and, this coupled with its length, makes listening feel more like a chore than a rewarding experience.
Rising marked Ono’s first album in 10 years and found her moving away from the more (relatively speaking) commercially-minded material she had released in the 1980s. Along with son Sean Ono Lennon – here a member of the trio IMA, to whom the album is co-credited – she returns to her more musically ambitious and adventurous self not seen since the early 1970s. It’s not for nothing that her truly collaborative endeavors find her pushing herself into more challenging territory. Where before she relied on husband John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band for their own particular brand of avant-garde noise and emotional catharsis, here she calls on son Sean to update the approach for the ‘90s, utilizing a range of sounds and styles borrowed from the musical underground.
Opening track, “Warzone” is a heavy, aggressive slab of metal that finds her shrieking and screaming in a way she hadn’t on record in several decades. “Wouldnit” rides a wickedly funky groove, atop of which Ono employs her own unique brand of personal and emotional catharsis through lyrics both direct and abstract. The funk-indebted vibe continues on “Ask the Dragon,” a track on which Ono spends the opening moments panting and moaning before deploying a highly theatrical speak-song vocal take that goes from conversational to banshee-wailing to porn star and back within only a few bars. It’s not exactly an entirely successful experiment, but it’s nonetheless a welcome return to something more avant-garde and challenging.
“Talking to the Universe,” however, proves far more successful with its mix of hip-hop and funky acid jazz. The result feels like the sort of proto-rap experiments being conducted by the hip downtown New York art set circa-No Wave and its more dance-oriented post-punk offshoots. And while the lyrics might not be among her best (choice couplet: “You’re a dildo/ I’m a whore”), IMA more than carries the song with their then-progressive blend of styles and use of turntablism. Conversely, “I’m Dying” sounds like Ono fronting a rudimentary version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and not necessarily in a good way.
While the band ably cops the sound and feel of the Chili Peppers, Ono’s overwrought vocalizing comes off as more affected than on her earlier endeavors, sounding almost like she felt obligated to go full-Ono for the younger generation who may have missed out on it the first time around. At over six minutes, it’s all a bit much, what with the repetitive, funk-metal groove and Ono’s wordless vocalizations sounding more at odds with one another than complimentary.
Rather than being a triumphant return to form, Rising feels more like a tentative return to music after more than a decade in the wilderness. It’s not an entirely wasted effort, particularly with IMA’s mid-‘90s brand of calculated cool, but it lacks the visceral impact of her earliest recordings. It nevertheless helped to bring her to the attention of a younger audience who would embrace her wonderfully weird and highly idiosyncratic vocal techniques, employing all manner of shrieks, squeals and ululations to dramatic effect. Ultimately, however, Rising sounds incredibly dated and, this coupled with its length, makes listening feel more like a chore than a rewarding experience.