On Friday, the music industry’s premier avant-garde icon, Yoko Ono, released her newest album, Warzone — a set of 12 original songs and one re-envisioned version of her late husband John Lennon’s iconic 1971 anthem “Imagine.”
In an email interview with The Daily Californian, Ono described her belief in the album’s political significance — particularly the title track. When discussing her selection of the album’s tracklist, Ono described her interest in Asian numerology as being a major factor: “13 is a very good number. I definitely wanted to do two more songs I liked, but I thought I can do it with the next album,” Ono said in an email.
“The reason I chose these 13 songs is because it was a very important time for all of us to work together and wake up,” she wrote.
To a casual listener, the album, a painfully abstract, somewhat haphazard jumble of songs loosely tied together through themes of communal solidarity and political activism, is hardly an easy listening experience. Yet, Ono’s desire to “wake” her audience up and bring them together to create large-scale change comes through consistently and genuinely. Warzone is a confident release from Ono, who, even at 85, is as engaged, persistent and dynamic as ever.
Warzone is consistent with Ono’s signature unconventional, radical approach to her musical and visual art. Like much of Ono’s work, its niche style won’t find favor with many audiences, but it remains a striking and audacious work of political art.
The album begins in chaos — soaked in Ono’s signature experimental aesthetic. The first track and lead single, “Warzone,” includes the sounds of sporadic gunshots, cawing crows and howling dogs in the distance. A remake of the punk-rock track from her 1995 album, Rising, “Warzone” adequately sets the stage for the rest of Ono’s album. It’s a collage of alarming and combative noise, with Ono’s added chanting of blunt and bizarre lyrics such as, “Men flashing their guns and balls / Women looking like Barbie dolls / Wake up, wake up.” The shocking opening and the song’s intricate combination of angst and anarchy make for a bold beginning to an undeniably bold album.
The third track, “Now or Never,” is a calming departure from the album’s harsh beginning. Yet, despite its gentle beats, swing-style rhythm and breezy keyboard melody, “Now Or Never” is as political as the album’s other songs. Lyrics, such as “Are we gonna keep watching dead bodies over dinner?” epitomize the somber, serious questioning that remains at the heart of even the album’s softest track.
Brassy rock songs such as “Woman Power” and “Children Power” signify calls to action, as Ono positions herself firmly in the global feminist movement in the first and acknowledges the power of youth activism in the latter. These tracks fall in line with the album’s bold and abstract style and themes of political progressivism. But like much of the album, they’re largely forgettable as standalone songs. Ono’s effort to tackle as many themes as possible in the album’s 13 tracks essentially buries the few powerful statements she actually does make.
The final track on the album is also its most famous — a remake of “Imagine.” While the original song is an iconic, frequently covered musical milestone, Ono puts forth a surprisingly touching version of the song, a soft, personal and powerful ode to global peace, to human solidarity and to her late husband’s cultural legacy. It’s a poignant ending to an album that mostly deals with political war in a far more assertive manner. Perhaps, after consistent political questioning and angry calls for activism throughout the album, leaving her audience with the prospect of global unity is the most radical move that Ono makes.
Warzone is a conscious, bold and satisfying release from one of the world’s most unconventional musicians. It may be difficult to stomach its brash and harrowing sounds, but it’s a genuine, perceptive and worthy new addition in Ono’s musical and artistic repertoire.