Like Kate Bush’s Director’s Cut, Yoko Ono’s Warzone finds its creator retooling songs from their less-canonical albums, taking out the production quirks that didn’t work and settling on a more tasteful and consistent sound. Bush’s songs from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes were mostly excellent, but the bone-dry, digital production had to go, to be replaced by a musty Victorian warmth. And while Ono clearly finds it urgent enough to salvage and reinterpret six of its songs, her 1985 Starpeace is a black sheep in its catalog due to the strobe-light synths that date it to its decade.

But the octave-bass cheese of the ‘80s is no less ignominious than the style in which Ono’s chosen to recast her songs: bled-out, monochrome, treated-piano, Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross movie-trailer music, which portends the end of the world like it’s waiting for Megatron. Dark sound design seems to replace instruments here except for the song-pair of “Women Power” and “Children Power,” which rock like her latter-day Plastic Ono albums but not as hard as the originals, which are some of the most bracing rock records ever made. Her version of “Imagine” slides soupily between its two chords, which hang in midair, though she deserves credit for recognizing that the piano lick is the best part of the song and bringing it in towards the end.

But Warzone is as much about stasis as it is about change. While the arrangements are different, the lyrics are not, and the idea here in many cases is to present the words untouched in a different year and a different context to show how little’s changed in the world. The inclusions are often alarming. “Now or Never” originally appeared on 1973’s Approximately Infinite Universe and asks “Are we gonna be known as the century that failed?” The 20th century in retrospect feels like the last time we were on the right track, and the chance of civilization making it through the 21st in a recognizable form feels less likely by the day. “Are you ready for blood and horror?” she asks “Where Do We Go From Here,” originally from 1995’s Rising. Are you? Warzone is best when it suggests doom rather than hope, because we can always fall back on hope to pretend we’re not going to eventually get our comeuppance.

There are times we wish Ono had taken some pains to update these songs. For every line that seems prickly and poignant now, especially in an America that feels as much like a “Warzone” as the sound-collage hell she summons on the title track, there’s a line that’s only timeless through vaguery—the Barnum effect, basically. A lyric like “Mesmerized by mythology/ Hypnotized by ideology/ Antagonized by reality/ Vandalized by insanity” means and does little. And while she attempts empathy by carrying the world’s struggles in her breast on “I Love All of Me,” the specific challenges confronted by the “red man,” “black man,” and “yellow girl” go unremarked.

To suggest that nothing’s really changed is to ignore the things that have—not only positive changes and those who fought for them, like the incredible gains made by LGBT community in the last decade, but the way the same problems reincarnate and find new ways to fuck us. Black people may be able to vote and sit in the same restaurants as white people now, but police brutality, disproportionate sentencing, poverty, homelessness, housing discrimination, food deserts and disease remain problems, and the George Floyd protests are unlikely to bring down a hydra that will sprout new heads. Cataclysmic events are on the horizon. Old songs won’t do much to stop them, but people will probably still sing “Imagine” after they happen.

  • Rafael Anton Irisarri: Peripeteia

    Peripeteia is the rare ambient album that works best during a focused listen on headphones…
  • Teyana Taylor: The Album

    The Album doesn’t benefit from its 77-minute runtime, especially when much of the midsecti…
  • Gas: Oktember

    Gas tracks sound best when you’re outdoors, anyway, as they dare you to wander further and…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Rafael Anton Irisarri: Peripeteia

Peripeteia is the rare ambient album that works best during a focused listen on headphones…