Isolation - John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band
I'm back. Over two months off since Christmas, mostly because I have had the dreaded so-called Aussie flu.
So I have for much of that time been in a kind of isolation - a week in bed, then sleep, work, eat, sleep has been all I've had the energy for.
So in my isolation I had plenty of time to figure out the follow on to Darlene Love, and eventually it was obvious.
1970, what a great year looking back, starting tragically with the break -up of the Beatles and the release of their last (at least last released) album, "Let it Be". But this turned to delight as in the same year we then were treated to solo albums by each of the Fab Four, over four times the music given that Harrison's offering was a triple disc. His was like a cork coming off a bottle of pop, squeezed full of the songs that he wasn't aloud to include on the Beatles albums, McArtney's a back to basics set with all instrument played by Linda or himself, Ringo's a bunch of jazz and musical covers dating from the fifties way back to the twenties. It was as if they were all reacting in some way to the release of no longer being part of what had become the restriction of the Beatles. None moreso than Lennon who brought out what now is regarded as his finest album - "John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band" last of all, in early December. I remember, I'd bought the other three, and bought this one the day after it came out and played it all Christmas, alongside Phil Spector's immortal Christmas album.
The astonishing thing about this album is that Lennon completely (and beautifully) bares his soul, sings about his beliefs, his politics, his parents and the hurt they gave him, the Beatles, Yoko, about what matters to him.
Another astonishing thing - and the connection with the previous Darlene Love track - is that it was produced by Lennon along with Phil Spector. Yes the same "wall of sound" Phil Spector who produced the Ronettes et al, as well as remixing "Let it Be" and recreating the aforesaid wall on Harrison "All things Must Pass".
But here, it's almost a joke. It's the opposite, totally paired back, so that there is almost no production at all, just balancing, so that the tenderness and rage of Lennon's vocals are all that there is. In this world.
It's like when you see a barn owl hunting at dusk, and the sound it makes is soooo utterly quiet it seems to blot out all other noise, and the silence is so loud that it seems to make time stop.
And "Isolation" is the track at the heart of this, the epicentre of the album (first side, last track, often the case):
It starts gently, timidly almost, hopefully, with Lennon on piano,
"don't they know we're so afraid?"
with just Ringo on drums and old mucker Klaus Voorman on bass as is the case all the way through this spare LP,
and then comes the middle eight and Lennon explodes with rage against "them", each phrase spat out between a pair of piano chords that smack like axe blows
"I don't expect you
after you caused
so much pain
but then again
you're not to blame,
you're just a human
a victim of the insane"
- he realises that it's going to take too much to stop these people, the profiteers, the men in the corporations that are destroying people and the world one way or another.
Then he is gentle again, sorrowful, almost resigned. The world he's singing about so presciently is very much like the world we are living in today.
"we're afraid of everyone
afraid of the sun
the sun will never disappear
but the world may not have many years
It's as though Spector thought who needs a wall of sound when you have this much power, this much passion, the best thing to do is leave well alone.