As In Hell, As in Heaven
Few names have the level of connotation in popular music as does Yoko Ono. True, much of that connotation is due in no small part to her iconic love with the late and legendary John Lennon (and Ono has said as much before). However, it is unfair to leave her painted in that corner; in reality, Take Me to the Land of Hell is in one way or another her fifteenth studio work under the Plastic Ono Band moniker.
A track like the opener, “MOONBEAMS,” seems to present what most people who are familiar with her singular type of music have against her: abstracted poetry, free-association type wailing and disconnected musical interludes. However, when paired with the successive track, the groovy bass-driven “Cheshire Cat,” both tracks serve to compliment each other in context. That’s the thing really– you have to take the art of someone like Yoko Ono in a special context, one that is all her own.
The album is her first since reforming the Plastic Ono Band, crucially now with her son Sean Lennon, who produced the record. Even though there is, and will likely always be, a sad undercurrent to all of Yoko’s art (“Little Boy Blue” and the sad and poignant title track are most apparent in the regard as one would expect), but for the most part, Ono sounds like she is having particular fun on this record. And that is good to hear. The quirky tag team dance tracks of “Tabetai” and “Bad Dancer” (introduced with, “If your heart is dancing, your mind is bouncing”) are especially good examples of this inherent energy of the performances.
Speaking of performers, Ono has gathered some notable collaborators here, aside from her son: Lenny Kravitz, the two remaining Beastie Boys (Ad-Rock and Mike D) and ?uestlove all share their talents across the record. On a track like “Shine, Shine,” you can particularly the fruits of these collaborations, as a tangible girth kicks the track around with a hectic and funky groove that makes it one of the standouts of the album. Then, when you balance it against a little jazzy ditty like “Leaving Tim,” it provides a serene balance and emotional range and depth to the album.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of this record is the fact that it was planned to coincide with Ono’s 80th birthday. There are, of course, the typical jokes one usually hears about aging musicians (who, at forty, are often judged to be losing their steam). The most wonderful thing about this record is how fresh and energetic it sounds for someone who has traversed the heights of ethereal happiness to the perils of all-encompassing hell. It is plainly just a good record, and in some ways it makes perfect sense that someone as singular as Yoko Ono could shrug off connotation and reputation enough to make an album of such true character.