1973, Music

Approximately Infinite Universe (1973) by Yoko Ono

My first encounter with Yoko Ono as the dominant performer (as opposed to Lennon) was with her Plastic Ono Band. I guess I wasn’t in the right mood for it, as it felt just way too directionless and faux avant garde to my ears at the time. (Some of the stuff they do on that record of provocation feels like it belongs in the 1920s.) So I had really low expectations for this record.

Though Ono has a legendarily unlistenable voice, that voice really isn’t anywhere near as grating to someone raised later on – there have been so many difficult voices in rock music since Ono, that her voice is more just accented than awful. Also, unlike many uniquely voiced rock singers, Ono is actually talented. Just listen to her warble on some of these tracks; she almost belongs on a Pharaoh Sanders record. That’s a talent that few people possess. I don’t mind a weird voice but I’m definitely okay with a weird voice when that person can actually sing (even if that singing is in another language than her native one and even if her singing ability is very unconventional for a rock singer).

But who cares if the singer’s voice is not as objectionable as legend would have it if there aren’t any songs? Fortunately it turns out that when Ono wants to, she can actually write songs. Gone are the avant garde pranks and jams of Plastic Ono Band or the sound collages of the early Lennon-Ono albums. Instead we get a really solid set of songs full of heartfelt, passionate lyrics about her personal life and about politics (including a song about abortion). It’s not so much that Ono’s lyrics are good – they’re above average I guess – but rather that they are clearly directly from her soul. This is not a songwriter who is worried about craft, but rather about expressing herself. In many ways this record feels like Ono’s response to Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band.

Ono is credited with piano on one or two tracks, so I do wonder to what extent she was actually responsible for writing all of these songs. (I am not trying to be sexist here, only genuinely wondering because Lennon had been writing songs for a decade and a half or so at this point, whereas this is Ono’s first attempt. I wonder how a non-musician could dictate arrangements to a band, for example.) But the credit really doesn’t matter -based on this record alone, she’s a pretty good songwriter.

The only real drawback is the length = though there are few weak songs here, the album is really too long for its own good.


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