An odd collection of pieces, seemingly gathered without any overarching purpose.
By now, Yoko Ono’s strategies against the architecture of popular music are clear. Leaving aside the well-worn, sexist and often racist allegations regarding her role in the dissolution of pop’s great charlatans, it’s fair to say that her approach to the business of producing music for audiences is a deeply ambivalent one. Her catalog is a heady mixture of hard-to-listen-to experiments in line with her Fluxus training and artistic temperament, spot-on contributions to a wide range of genres and musical dissections of the structures and forms of popular music itself. And what links these together is Ono’s unflinching desire to both examine her identity and also draw attention to the fact that she’s doing this. On Blueprint for a Sunrise, the then-sixty-eight-year-old Ono mixes all of these elements together. The album that is fascinating in that a listener is both seduced into lowering their guard and then is entirely disrupted, lifted out of a less critical listening practice by the album’s more overtly experimental noise pieces. However, it’s one thing to be fascinating and another to be satisfying, and it’s worth noting that, before the release of this album and when quizzed about why she hadn’t produced any of her own music for so long, Ono replied, “There seemed no great call for it.”
The album opens with “I Want You To Remember Me ‘A,’” a difficult dialogue between Ono and herself over a bass pulse, immediately referencing “Baby’s Heartbeat” from 1969’s Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions. Here the conversation seems to be about being born or not, being aborted or not, immediately segueing into “I Want You to Remember Me ‘B’” with the lyrics “Gotta Kill, gotta kill, gotta kill/ Anybody/ Somebody.” Ono’s grunts and wails sit alongside a gently growing guitar-led piece of scratchy funk. Synth pads soar at the same pace as her ululations, holding a mid-tempo, unwavering pace for the full four minutes before finishing abruptly with her explaining that “I want you to/ Remember me.” The classical guitar opening of “Is This What We Do” holds together a more overt indication of Ono’s themes as she sings, “Is this what we do to our women/ Is this what we do to our own/ She gives us life, she gives us love/ In return we hurt her.” As a piece of critical thinking around gender politics, it’s all a little undercooked with such insights as “Trees and bees/ Mountain and rivers/ Air and the Earth/ They give us life/ They fill our needs/ In return we hurt them.” “Wouldnit ‘swing’” is a return to “Wouldnit” from 1995’s Rising, here given a slightly funky turn which is inoffensive at best but not a patch on the already slight original.
“Soul Got Out of the Box,” originally an outtake from 1973’s Approximately Infinite Universe is more interesting, a barroom piano stomp of a piece over which Ono continues to punctuate each verse with a chorus of panting vocalizations. “Rising II” is a 12-minute live performance, a slowly growing piece of fascinating musicality where the band sound like they’re channeling Michael Gira’s Angels of Light. Again, Ono ululates, wails and intones for much of the song’s length, interrupting the noise to advise us to “Listen to your heart/ Respect your intuition/ And make your manifestation.” “It’s Time for Action!” is, perhaps, the album’s highlight, giving a glimpse of what a swamp rock Talking Heads might have sounded like. For much of the song’s length, Ono narrates in Japanese, which makes for a much easier listening experience, only occasionally interrupting this to speak in English, gasp or pant. “Mulberry” is another reference to Unfinished Music No. 2, with the original track recorded in 1968 and released as an extra on the 1997 reissue of that album, this time with son Sean Lennon filling in on this live track what had been originally John’s guitar pieces.
Ultimately, while it’s important to recognize and celebrate the attempt, effort and aesthetic that Ono develops with her work, listening closely to this album is rendered difficult when Blueprint for a Sunrise is such an odd collection of pieces, seemingly gathered without any overarching purpose. Some are live, some harking back to earlier moments in her career, some fully within the gamut of her experimental process and others excellently produced but which become harder to experience as simple pop songs because Ono’s odd aphorisms, elsewhere referred to insultingly as “childlike,” highlight ultimately how vacuous political statements become in a pop forum. Whether this means that Ono’s work is, or has become, equally as vacuous remains, pleasingly, up to her listeners.