CD Review: Acoustic - John Lennon
By Glenn Weiser
Metroland, March 24, 2005

John Lennon - Acoustic (Capitol)

Nearly a quarter-century after John Lennon’s murder by a deranged fan in New York City, his widow Yoko Ono has released a 16-track CD of Lennon playing his post-Beatles material in solo acoustic renditions. This disc, however, is a mixed blessing: Although it shows how marvelous Lennon sounded alone and unplugged, listeners will have to endure its considerable flaws.
Acoustic is a pastiche of live recordings from two benefit concerts in 1971 and rough demos of the classic studio versions from the same decade. Although it has most of the highlights from his solo period, the album is beset with problems. Foremost is that nine of its 16 songs have already been released on the 1998 Anthology box set, giving us only seven new tracks. This makes Acoustic a rather paltry offering. The sound quality of some of the demos is also quite poor, leading one to wonder if Ono had to scrape the bottom of the vault to assemble the album. Finally, the liner notes offer virtually no information about the recordings. Instead, we get a handful of photos of the former Beatle, three of his drawings, the lyrics and chords to the songs, and a chord chart for the “future guitarists” that Ono dedicates the CD to.

All this is forgivable, though, as Lennon was arguably rock’s greatest songwriter and certainly one of its finest singers. Despite its shortcomings, Acoustic still upholds this legacy. His voice is never off-key or strained on these presumably unedited cuts, and remains wonderfully expressive throughout, especially on “Imagine,” “Watching the Wheels,” and “Dear Yoko.” On “Cold Turkey,” the onetime junkie even dramatizes the agony of heroin withdrawal with feral moans and guttural noises.

The disc also shows that Lennon was a better acoustic guitarist than you might expect, given that he was not the Beatles’ lead axman. Although he doesn’t accompany himself with complex fingerpicking or speedy single-note runs, his playing is solid and tasteful, consisting largely of deftly accented strumming with well-placed melodic embellishments. There are departures, though: On “Love,” his vocals float effortlessly over a chord line skillfully played in bass note-chord style. Again, “Well, Well, Well” sports surprisingly tasty blues licks.

Even though Acoustic might leave you hungering for what a well-produced unplugged John Lennon album might have been like, it does succeed in capturing his genius from a new angle. And for that, you know you should be glad.

List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser                          ©2005 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.

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