Yoko Ono is 85 years-old, and has absolutely nothing to prove as a human being. She’s made four decades worth of music, acted in a number of different television shows and films, and of course, married one of the most influential artists of all-time. She’s someone who’s very aware of her current surroundings, but never forgets her roots and upbringing.
Ono’s intense alertness also shines through when it comes to her recent musical output, specifically on her newest project, Warzone. The Japanese native follows an unusual trend of older artists creating a re-imagining of some of their lesser known tracks (i.e. Paul Simon from just a few weeks ago). The result is a stripped down version of 13 quiet songs detailing the issues present in today’s world, from someone who genuinely seems to care.
On paper, the entire concept makes sense, especially since a lot of the problems from back in the day still very much apply to our current political landscape. The title track and intro to the project represents those corresponding timelines to surprising perfection, notably when Ono shouts in spoken word, “Men flashing their guns and balls/Women looking like barbie dolls.” The message rings true even in 2018, but Ono’s lack of a clear explanation to why she’s saying what she’s saying leaves an untapped murkiness that doesn’t really uncover itself for the majority of Warzone. The intriguing sound effects rippling through the background of the production does make for a successful parallel to the unsettling lyrics however.
Oddly enough, the instrumentals lack much in the way of ambition following the introduction, which really hurts the overall aesthetic of the album. Ono tackles each of her desired themes without much expansion. Every concept she mentions, whether it be womanhood, politics, or class, fail to escape its surface-level interpretations. In other words, each suggestion brought up within each track has already been done before.
Ono desperately croons, “Two thousand years of male society/ Laying fear and tyranny,” on “Woman Power.” She’s right when it comes to talking about the unfortunate imbalance within gender roles, but artists like Janelle Monae and No Name have done a much better job of making their music more relatable to the millennial generation. Let’s not kid ourselves, a lot of little girls would more likely gravitate towards pop/rap when it comes to the positive messaging. Not to mention, their concepts are definitely fleshed out and detailed, specifically on Monae’s gem from earlier this year, Dirty Computer.
Ono is at her best when she is bringing subtly, like on the contemplative “Where Do We Go From Here.” While the songwriting still falls on the skeletal side of the spectrum, at least she begs a question that everyone asks nowadays, specifically in America. Her tone stays consistently bleak up until this point as well, which kind of carries weight as the project enters its second half.
The biggest strength Ono has going for her on Warzone is the compelling dichotomy she presents herself with, notably when it comes to how she formats her work. The anguish and sorrow, while present for most of the running time, actually subsides by the final two tracks. Her obvious ode to our planet on “I Love You Earth,” as emotional as it is heart-wrenching. The track not only presents itself as a beautiful ballad for nature, but also radiates a certain stillness not too often seen in today’s music. It’s not necessarily a shout-out to the people who are living in it. Ono also knows that the end of the road is near for her, meaning this could be her final farewell. While her views on the world are generally pessimistic, at least she can be somewhat happy with where she’s personally at.
Ono’s intentions are clearly for the betterment of society on Warzone. Regardless, the concepts become too big for her at times, which is very surprising considering how larger than life she’s become over the years. Ono’s well-aware of the reason for her recent output of music, but the focus stops there. She mentions an obvious imperfect world in the most surface-level way possible.