Arts, Music

Yoko Ono Challenges Listeners With Crowded Sounds in ‘Yes, I’m a Witch Too’

3.5 stars

Sequels are a tricky business, even in the music industry. They have to feel cohesive with the original work, while standing on their own as a distinct piece of art. In film, there are very few that have accomplished this: the second Alien and The Godfather films come to mind, along with the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. But in music, success is more rare. The most recent example of a sequel in music is Justin Timberlake’s second chapter of his The 20/20 Experience, which felt connected to the first part, but as its own entity, was lackluster at best. It is even harder to create a successful sequel when the first installment was a reboot of older material. This is exactly the challenge that one of music’s most controversial figures, Yoko Ono, faces on her latest compilation/remix album, Yes, I’m a Witch Too.  

With the original album, Yes, I’m a Witch, artists were invited to do covers or remixes of Ono’s material. Most of the artists chose to keep Ono’s vocals and create new backing tracks. That process holds true for the sequel as well. The reinventions of the songs range in genre from classical to electronica, rock, and everything in between. The result is a diverse collection of songs that shows the talent of the artists  Ono gathered to create her remix.

The album’s opener, “Walking on Thin Ice,” was remixed by New York DJ Danny Tenaglia, but strangely has no bouncing beats or synth in sight. Instead, he replaces the song’s original beats and charging guitars—from the album Double Fantasy with John Lennon—with a string arrangement that feels as though the wind is blowing through the listener’s hair, or like the sun is breaking through a stained-glass window. Complementing Ono’s breathy and cracking vocals, this song feels as though you are experiencing a beautiful moment that you know you are going to lose, slipping from your grasp like water through your fingers. This version is much better than John Pierce’s remix that appears on Yes, I’m a Witch in which the synths and guitars were too overbearing and melodramatic to get at the vulnerability of the song. In this case, the sequel wins out over the original reboot.



Another song that reinvents the original well—but not necessarily better—is “Ms. Lennon.” Swedish pop/rock heroes Peter Bjorn and John replace the song’s somber guitar accompaniment with a shuffling kick drum and wobbling guitar chords that make it feel as though you are meandering through a desert. There is also a bit of hectic, scratchy guitar work in between the verses that intensifies the lyrics, which detail the way people perceived Ono’s grief after Lennon’s death. She sings this song heartbreakingly. But this cover is not necessarily better than the original because this song (and most of these songs) were fantastic anyway.

These remixes highlight the versatility of Ono’s songwriting and first-rate lyricism.

On “Wouldn’t”—originally from the album Rising—acclaimed house DJ Dave Audé transforms the once-funk-infused track into a bona-fide club banger complete with laser-like synths, a pulsating beat, and church-ready piano chords. But it is Ono’s lyrics that still stand out, even when they are drenched in autotune for a robotic effect. Ono asks, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be a star? / Shinin’ and sparklin’, looking down the whole and plenty / Being looked up with a telescope / While my sister’s busy cutting the rope,” as she sings about being a heroine, a hero, and a star, and as she goes on, you begin to believe her.

With 17 tracks—some much better than others—and so many different styles to wade through, the album can give you a bit of listening fatigue, but you are never bored by what comes next. How many albums can you say that about? Not many.

Featured Image By Manimal Vinyl

February 21, 2016