John Lennon

John Lennon disappeared before most people had him figured out; compare what you know of him to your ideas about Paul McCartney, who's given us over two decades to understand him with goofy Christmas songs, bizarro pop-star collaborations and the occasional crappy solo album. So you'd think this set of acoustic live tracks and demos by the ex-Beatle would clear up some of the mystery still surrounding him--the intimacy of a man and his guitar, you know? Yet all these songs do is reemphasize the enigma of his artistry: the philosophical smart bombs he dropped in "God," in which he doesn't believe in anything but himself, and "Woman Is the Nigger of the World," in which he doesn't really bother to unpack the title's terrifically loaded statement; the psychological turmoil in "Cold Turkey," in which a roughly strummed acoustic only makes his "I wish I was dead" more believable; the political urgency in "John Sinclair," in which he rails bitterly for the freedom of the '60s radical. The relative simplicity of the album's love songs--historical models of lyrical elegance and melodic whimsy--doesn't really help: "Even after all these years, I miss you when you're not here," he sings in a tinny "Dear Yoko." Imagine that.
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Mikael Wood