Saturday, March 19, 2016

Yoko Ono - 1973 - Approximately Infinite Universe

Yoko Ono 
Approximately Infinite Universe

01. Yang Yang 3:52
02. Death Of Samantha 6:23
03. I Want My Love To Rest Tonight 5:11
04. What Did I Do! 4:11
05. Have You Seen A Horizon Lately 1:55
06. Approximately Infinite Universe 3:19
07. Peter The Dealer 4:43
08. Song For John 2:02
09. Catman (The Rosies Are Coming) 5:29
10. What A Bastard The World Is 4:33
11. Waiting For The Sunrise 2:32
12. I Felt Like Smashing My Face In A Clear Glass Window 5:07
13. Winter Song 3:37
14. Kite Song 3:19
15. What A Mess 2:41
16. Shiranakatta (I Didn't Know) 3:13
17. Air Talk 3:21
18. I Have A Woman Inside My Soul 5:31
19. Move On Fast 3:40
20. Now Or Never 4:57
21. Is Winter Here To Stay? 4:27
22. Looking Over From My Hotel Window 3:30

Yoko's essays "The Feminization of Society" and "Approximately Infinite Universe" are printed inside and on the back of the album sleeve.

Yoko Ono: vocals, piano, writer, arranger, producer, artwork
John Lennon: guitar, backing vocals, producer, artwork
Wayne Gabriel: guitar
Adam Ippolito: piano, organ, harmonium, trumpet
Stan Bronstein: saxophone, flute, clarinet
Gary Van Scyoc: bass, trumpet
Daria Price: castanets
Richard Frank: drums, percussion
Ron Frangipane: orchestration

In the 1980s, young (mostly white) college-age kids in the West prided themselves on having "discovered" a cool, hip kind of music they called "New Wave," a more commercialized offshoot of punk rock. The only thing was, this so-called "New Wave" was really an old wave that had been pioneered some years before in great part by an avante-garde performance artist who was a person of color and a woman. Yes, it was Yoko Ono.

This double record, "Approximately Infinite Universe", has little of the avante-garde screeching and wailing style for which Yoko was known in musical and performance art circles at the time (including on "Some Time in New York City", the album which she recorded just before this one with her partner, John Lennon). What "Approximately Infinite Universe" does showcase is Yoko's delving into more mainstream pop-rock styles, and she handles the transition well. This album is a brilliant record of an artist who was then at the top of her game in the early 1970s.

The backup band that Yoko and John used during that period, the New York-based Elephant's Memory band, kicks a** throughout this album, especially on driving numbers like "Yang Yang", "Kite Song", "What Did I Do!" and "Move On Fast". Yoko's occasional anti-male/pro-feminist rants on the album are guaranteed to both repel and attract listeners, but at least she had the guts to speak her mind and was not afraid to hit where it hurt: On the taunting tune "What a Mess", for example, she sings: "If you keep hammering anti-abortion / we'll tell you no more masturbation for men...So how do you feel about that, brother?" But to balance things out, she does show her more gentle side toward men on songs like "I Want My Love to Rest Tonight" and "Winter Song", as well as on the melancholy "Song For John", featuring very Japanese-sounding piano work.

On the acoustic ballad "Now or Never", Yoko does her best Bob Dylan impersonation when she sings: "Are we gonna / keep sending our youths to war?...People of America / when will we stop?" The Vietnam War, obviously, was on her mind but this song could well have been written today. My favorite lines by Yoko also come from this song: "Dream you dream alone is only a dream / but dream we dream together is reality". John Lennon would cite these very same lines in the famous Playboy magazine interview done just before his death in 1980.

The title track, "Approximately Infinite Universe", is by far my favorite on this album, with its haunting guitar work and sweeping strings propelled by a strong, marching-style drum beat and Jim Pepper-style saxophone phrasing. Yoko explained in the album's liner notes at the time how the title of this song came from a conversational mind-game that she and John had played on the topic of (quote-unquote) "astral identity". I also really like the photos in the album jacket of Yoko and John strolling arm in arm on the New York City waterfront in the early 1970s.

The lyrics on this CD are pure Yoko throughout, and oftentimes the great music on the album doesn't seem to quite fit Yoko's lyrics, which can get corny and abstract at times. Also, Yoko seems to be slightly off-rhythm in several songs -- but then again, that was probably her style, given her avante-garde background. The only song in which Yoko does her famous vocal acrobatics is on the song "Is Winter Here to Stay?", a bluesy number, but even then you get the feeling she is really holding herself back for fear of stepping outside the mainstream pop-rock boundaries she carefully set for recording this particular album.

I had always liked Yoko Ono as an outspoken artist who was never afraid to live her art to the fullest and express her views on various issues affecting the world, but listening to this album "Approximately Infinite Universe", I fell in love with Yoko all over again. By all means, check out this pioneering work by a woman of color who was at the top of her game some 35 years ago -- and who would have a clear influence on the so-called New Wave music "boom" that had western white kids all excited just a few years later.



  2. Thank you! I've never heard this one.