PRINT April 1996


Yoko Ono/IMA

I have always thought Yoko Ono the only thing interesting about the Beatles. While this is probably not the sanest way to begin, it is at least uncompromising, a mode that has long been one of Ono’s greatest virtues and lessons. On Rising (Capitol), her first new album in over a decade (though close on the heels of her astounding Rykodisc retrospective, Onobox), Ono continues not to compromise and so continues to make songs (noises, chants, whispers, conversations, cries) that combine the matter-of-fact thrusts of Conceptual art with the libidinal cerebrations of rock ’n’ roll. Rising ranges from thrashing, aggressive numbers to bass-sexy danceable grooves, from fusion moments to others that are about as close to ikebana as rock can get: her encompassing vocals bridge it all.

Ono has written that the “making of the album served as a purging of my anger, pain and fear,” but her voice and the precise collaboration of her band, IMA (Sam Koppelman, Timo Ellis, and Sean Ono Lennon) offer something wilder, more invigorating, and disciplined than rant. Rising begins with the rough-and-ready intensity of “Warzone” and works toward some kind of transcendence or, more accurately, transformation. The swaying tune of “Where Do We Go from Here” (especially in the Tricky remix) counterpoints grave questions with nursery-rhyme simplicities every bit as ominous: “Are we getting tired of blood and horror / Are we getting ready for god and terror / Dingdong hell / Pussy in the well / Cats on the hill / Ready to kill.” Rising Mixes (Capitol), with a bonus hypnotic Ono cut, “Franklin Summer,” and tracks from Rising remixed by some of the hippest players going (from the dream-zoned tripnotism of Tricky to the Day-Glo rambunctious bop of Cibo Matto, plus ABA Allstars, Ween, and Thurston Moore, none of whom could have done what they are doing in their own music without her), shows the continuing reach of Ono’s influence on rock since the ’70s, while its funky excellence makes an Ono tribute-album superfluous.

By the final quatrain of the album’s final song, “Revelations,” Ono’s voice is what it is: delicate, strong, worn down, going on. “The world has all that you need . . . / . . . Remember, you are loved.” Then, right at the close, “I love you.” Coursing with the electricity of love despite the mess all around, Ono balances rage with courage, confusion with a converging fusion, contemplating how we live with death (Hiroshima, AIDS) every day. Hard to imagine a better place to start for those unfamiliar with her work, or a finer gift to those who have always taken Ono to be what Rising proves she always has been: amazing.