Friday, 10 March 2017

"Imagine" by JOHN LENNON and THE PLASTIC ONO BAND (October 2010 EMI/Apple 'Signature Collection' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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Featuring George Harrison, Nicky Hopkins, Klaus Voorman, Tom Evans and Joey Molland of Badfinger, King Curtis, Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues and Alan White of Yes

"...When You're Crippled Inside..."

Some albums come loaded with their own legend and in the case of John Lennon's extraordinarily patchy solo work - it's easy for fans and admirers alike to start throwing around 5-star appraisals at 1971's "Imagine".

His famous second solo LP and most commercially successful (No. 1 on both sides of the pond) - "Imagine" is a good John Lennon album. I didn't think it was amazing back then as a teenager and 46 years later it hasn't morphed across time into a latter day masterpiece either (none of his Seventies solo LPs are five-star load-outs to me). But man oh man when Lennon's songwriting talent hits that sweet spot - he could articulate affection with a tenderness that would disarm an atheist ("Oh My Love"). Liverpool's finest could be a genuinely adoring husband in "Oh Yoko!" - only to become a poisonous spoiled little retch riling against a former friend and musical journeyman in "How Do You Sleep?" – his famous vitriolic attack on Paul McCartney for perceived slights on his "Ram" album released earlier in the year (May 1971).

I suppose that's what makes "Imagine" something you keep coming back to despite its flaws. Lennon was the most captivating of the post Beatles - a man plagued with all manner of demons both mental and physical that came out in his music - hitting you with an embarrassing honesty that often felt like an open wound with a neon above it saying 'smack me and smack me hard'. "Imagine" was truthful – reflecting both him and Yoko and their place in the world in 1971. Personally tender one moment - politico ranter the next – constantly searching for a truth that always seemed elusive and out of his/their grasp. "Imagine" is a ramshackle thing really despite nowadays being perceived as a coherent whole. And frankly would we have it any other way...

Which brings me to this latest 2010 CD Remaster in its natty gatefold card sleeve. Here are the head-in-the-clouds reissue details...

UK released October 2010 - "Imagine" by JOHN LENNON and THE PLASTIC ONO BAND on EMI/Apple 5099990650222 (Barcode 5099990650222) is a straightforward CD Reissue and Remaster of the 1971 Apple Records album that plays out as follows (39:47 minutes):

1. Imagine
2. Crippled Inside
3. Jealous Guy
4. It's So Hard
5. I Don't Want To Be A Soldier
6. Give Me Some Truth [Side 2]
7. Oh My Love
8. How Do You Sleep?
9. How?
10. Oh Yoko!
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Imagine" - released 9 September 1971 in the USA on Apple Records SW 3379 and 8 October 1971 in the UK on Apple Records PAS 10004. Produced by John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Phil Spector - it peaked at No. 1 in both countries.

This CD leaves out video and bonus tracks – so we don't get that self-indulgent and self-obsessed pair wandering around white rooms like they're all deep and in touch with greater forces than you or I. We're just left with the music as was presented – and a thoroughly excellent new remaster.

While the 16-page booklet is pretty to look at and tactile - it bears little resemblance to the Apple Records LP we all grew up with and loved. The track list wasn't on the rear sleeve and since when did "Give Me Some Truth" become 'Gimme Some Truth' or "I Don't Want To Be A Soldier" start to be called 'I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier Mama I Don't Wanna Die'. The stunning inner bag that came with 1971 vinyl LPs with the lyrics on one side and the musician credits on the other (both in circles) is not pictured - the lyrics now in the booklet followed by a more readable credits section. I get why that was done – both are now readable. But I still miss it not being here. Why couldn’t a repro version of that paper inner been used as a protective inner bag for the picture CD in the left part of the card digipak (a bit of imagination on the part of EMI would have lifted this flimsy thing out of the ordinary). The foldout black and white poster of John at a piano and the postcard of him holding a pig by the ears that came with original 1971 Apple pressings are built into the booklet and the gatefold card sleeve too. And although it doesn't actually say so anywhere on the packaging or disc as an official title – these 2010 CD reissues have become known as 'The Signature Collection' because of that signature design on the left side of the front card sleeve – signed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

The new liner notes by PAUL DU NOYER give a potted history of the album including his ludicrous attack on McCartney's looks and songwriting gift in the vicious "How Do You Sleep?" Compared to the austere and bare bones debut solo LP in 1970 "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band" – Noyer rightly concludes that "Imagine" did feel like George Harrison’s "All Things Must Pass" – the actual launch of a solo career and not the noodlings and experimentation that preceded it. There are lovely black and whites of John with Yoko, John with Phil Spector on the headphones in the studio and best of all is a witty snap of Lennon with George Harrison larking about with a Yoko Ono Grapefruit mug – his cheeky chappy working-class hero grin as evident as ever.

Overall - I find these card gatefold reissues and their glossy feel a string mix of the classy and nastily cheap – nice to look at – but oddly unsubstantial. I can’t help thinking die-hard fans will want the inevitable Japanese SHM-CD of "Imagine" with its Mini LP Repro Artwork using this 2010 remaster when it shows up (legendary reissues famed for their attention to fan-pleasing detail).

Meanwhile back here in cheapoville - the big news for us is the audio on "Imagine" - a notoriously lo-fi album now given the best transfer possible. PAUL HICKS, SEAN MAGEE and SIMON GIBSON – part of the team that handled the Apple Label catalogue and all the Stereo and Mono Remasters of the Beatles catalogue in 2009 – are once again at the master tapes helm. With Yoko Ono and Alan Rouse as Producer and Project Co-Ordinator – the boys have done the transfer deeds at Abbey Road Studios and the results are impressive. There’s a sudden power and clarity to all the tracks without ever being over-trebled or rammed on the loudness gauge – just subtle and present. If anything its made "Crippled Inside", "Jealous Guy" and "I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier" all the more eerie and spaced out on the Production front.

While Klaus Voorman (Bass) and Yes’ Alan White on Drums gently fill in the anthemic "Imagine" – it’s those ‘the world will live as one’ strings that now sound so sweet – tugging on your heart like never before - and those lyrics that make you cry. Lennon’s electric guitar opening to "Crippled Inside" is now even more otherworldly and I’m loving that superb Dobro solo from George Harrison - followed shortly after by Nicky Hopkins plinking away like a drunken sailor on the old Joanna in an East End pub at closing time. In a strange way – it took his loss and Bryan Ferry’s cover version in 1980 for me to really love "Jealous Guy". Jim Keltner on Drums, Klaus Voorman on Bass, Alan White providing Vibes – but its that Harmonium played by John Barham that leaps out of the new remastered mix.

I'd forgotten how cool "It's So Hard" is especially that brilliant string introduction - taking the song to places you hadn't expected. I've always found the near seven minutes of "I Don't Want To Be A Soldier" hard work - a jam that's trying to be something but never quite gets there. It has George Harrison on Guitar, Tom Evans and Joey Molland of Badfinger on Acoustic Guitars, Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues on Tambourine, Nicky Hopkins giving it some keyboard and even King Curtis on Saxophone. "Give Me The Truth" that opens Side 2 gives me the same creeps - a self-righteous rant without ever saying what it is he expects (George Harrison plays lead guitar). You're then clobbered with beauty - "Oh My Love" - as gorgeous a song as he's ever written. It's also beautifully produced - no gimmickry - just great music played sweetly and taped as such. It's a shame he vented in "How Do You Sleep?" because musically it’s good too. I always thought of "How?" as one of the album's truly brilliant moments – with its complimentary strings and simple piano-melody – it’s a beautiful song that would have elevated the "Let It Be" album into the stratosphere. And it ends on the jaunty "Oh Yoko" - Nicky Hopkins adding so much with his rolling piano while John impresses with those Mouth Organ flourishes.

"...My love will turn you on..." - John Lennon sang on "Oh Yoko". Despite its presentation flaws - I suspect this 2010 CD Remaster of the mighty "Imagine" LP will have you doing the same. R.I.P. you wonderful dreamer and thanks for all the imagining memories...

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