Monday, October 11, 2010


Let me be clear from the outset. Of the several John Lennon projects released last week, I only bought one of them. So, for the most part, in reviewing them I can only speak to content and not how they actually sound. October 9th, 2010 marked what would have been the 70th birthday of John Lennon. To commemorate this event, Yoko Ono has reissued and repackaged his solo catalogue in various forms. I felt the need to break them down for you:

Signature Box - The Signature Box is 11-discs. It is comprised of John Lennon's eight solo albums (one of which was a double album), a disc of hits and a disc of home demos. The box is a hard sell, even for the Lennon completist. The studio albums have all been remastered and reissued in the past ten years, most of them with bonus cuts. Most of the home demos we've seen before in the 1998 4-disc 'Anthology' box set and the 2004 'Acoustic' compilation (which itself was dominated by cuts from the 'Anthology').

Individual Albums - As I said above, the studio albums have all been re-released fairly recently. Of those, only 'Imagine' was released without any bonus content. The contents of the others varies. Rock & Roll has four bonus cuts, previously only available on the 1986 'Menlove Ave' compilation. The posthumous 'Milk & Honey' has a 22-minute interview done hours before Lennon was killed. The box and the new issues don't have anything like that. 'Some Time in New York City', however, was cut down to one disc with its '05 reissue, and here is restored to two discs for the first time since its original CD release in 1990. On the down side, it's one of the least respected of Lennon's solo works. So, of the lot, pick up Imagine if you don't already have it.

Double Fantasy: Stripped Down - I picked this one up because it offered something different. It has two discs, one of them being a remastered version of the original album. The other disc is a remixed version of the album where some of the backing vocals and tracks are removed and Lennon's voice is brought to the fore. The result is startlingly inconsequential. Maybe I'm not a qualified audiophile, but I couldn't tell that much of a difference. The original album sounds amazing, and Lennon's vocals don't sound "buried", as Yoko attests. This seems to have been a pointless exercise and a needless edition to Lennon's oeuvre. So, you're kind of getting ripped off two ways, one because you're buying a disc you don't really need and two because it's half Yoko. Also, the Stripped Down version is not available with the Signature Box! I recommend downloading the original mix versions of the Lennon tracks on iTunes and make your own EP.

Gimme Some Truth - This is a four-disc box set that compiles Lennon's songs under four separate themes: political statements, love songs, aging and musical influences. At 72 tracks, it's a hefty dose of Lennon, but who is it for? We can quibble about song choice and what fits what theme, but really, if you like Lennon this much, you're going to want all of the albums. If you want them shuffled about you can do that on your iPod. If you don't like Lennon this much, you'll just want the hits collection, which brings us to...

Power to the People: the Hits - All the Lennon hits compilations are pretty good. The first, 'Shaved Fish' (1975), was the only one released during Lennon's life. Of course, it's incomplete as it lacks the songs between 1976-81. I'm actually surprised it's still in print. 'The John Lennon Collection' from 1982 was the standard bearer for 15 years until it was replaced by 'Lennon Legend' in 1997. Both are about the same and contain the essential Lennon hits. He didn't get the two-disc treatment until 2005 with 'Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon'. It works as a career overview, but if you're just looking for the hits, this 2-disc is too long. This latest effort is equal to what has gone before, so if you don't have any Lennon or want a good compilation, this will do fine. If it were me, I would have added in "Beautiful Boy". It wasn't a hit, but it's become one of his better known compositions.

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