Eight years ago, John Lennon wrote the vitriolic "How Do You Sleep," an indictment of Paul McCartney's character, career and family. But last week McCartney got the last laugh when Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, released "Double Fantasy" (Geffen GHS 2001), an album of commercial, easy-listening pablum. At 40, John Lennon sounds just like Paul McCartney. The five-year wait for this album wasn't worth it.
The 14 songs, evenly split between John and Yoko, are little more than snatches from home movies with a kind of high-gloss soundtrack. Most of them center on how much John loves Yoko, Yoko loves John and both love their son, Sean. The domestic confessional angle doesn't excuse the vapid nature of the music: So what if Lennon has been a nonperforming househusband for five years? A woman's album based on five years in the kitchen would be dismissed. But $8.98 for a flaccid look at a family scrapbook is too much to ask.
"Just Like Starting Over," Lennon's single from the album, is an embarrassing pastiche of '50s and '60s influences as diverse as the beach Boys and Roy Orbison. His voice sounds fine, but the sentiments here and throughout the album are mushy and puerile. Here is a sample from "Dear Yoko": Even after all these years/I miss you when you're not here/I wish you wre here, my dear Yoko/Even if it's just a day."
"Kiss Kiss Kiss," Ono's first song, is typically irritaing: a Eurasian pop/disco synthesis whose dullness isn't helped by a caterwalling orgasm at the end. Donna Summer covered that territory years ago.
Lennon's "Woman" and "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" are pretty pop (very McCartney-ish), while Ono's "I'm Your Angel" creates a clumsy '20s ambience. "Dear Yoko" is at least perky in a Buddy Holly kind of way and "Cleanup Time" is caustic. But the songs suffer from a general lack of substance, lyrical directness and undistinguished melodies. One misses the Lennon of "Imagine" and Plastic Ono Band days. Yoko's warbling is more controlled than it was a decade ago, but her voice is still uninteresting.
In earlier times, both with the Beatles and with Ono, Lennon took chances, showed a certain amount of courage. What's obvious from "Double Fantasy" is that Lennon and Ono are no longer avant-gardists, but derierre guards.
Lennon and McCartney appear as ghosts on Utopia's "Deface the Music" (Bearsville BRK 3487). This album is a loving, imitative homage to the Beatles (up to "Magical Mystery Tour") that Todd Rundgren and Co. recorded on an old Vox amp and four-track tape machine -- just like the Beatles themselves. The album is filled with echoes and memories, pushed along by vintage '60s chords and lyrics and fairly authentic delivery. All the songs are new, with no direct lifts; part of the fun is matching up original and clone.
Rundgren's fascination with the Beatles goes back to his Nazz days in the late '60s, when that Philadelphia band seemed the last foothold of the British Invasion in a land that had surrendered to the San Francisco sound. bOne can hear the influences throughout Rundgren's career, so the making of "Deface" was not only a labor of admiration but a showcase of musical skills.
But the idea behind this album could have been exhausted in one swell single: Utopia's "I Just Want to Touch You," (which has hints of "She Loves You" and "There's A Place"); and on the flip side, "Life Goes On" (in case you wondered what happened to Eleanor Rigby and the string quartet that backed her) or "Everybody Else Is Wrong" ("I Am the Walrus"). Rundgren is Lennon while bass player Kasim Sultan is McCartney.
Instead of the humor of the Rutles' Beatle-vision, the effect is a redundant commercial accuracy that overreaches. Thus there is a Ringo-type song ("Always Late"), a "Penny Lane" trumpet cascade ("Hoi Poloi") and other authentic textures (john Wilcox has Ringo's drumming down cold and Rundgren plays some classic George Harrison-like guitar lines). One can even chart the Beatles' growth from rawness to sophistication. But like any artist copying Great Masters, the power is with the source. And "Deface the Music" is all resource -- well-crafted and clever, but ultimately self-indulgent.