Monday, 20 July 2015
John Lennon and Yoko Ono "Double Fantasy" (1980)
John Lennon and Yoko Ono "Double Fantasy" (1980)
(Just Like) Startin' Over/Kiss Kiss Kiss/Clean Up Time/Give Me Something/I'm Losing You/I'm Moving On/Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)//Watching The Wheels/Yes I'm Your Angel/Woman/Beautiful Boys/Dear Yoko/Every Man Has A Woman Who Lives Him/Hard Times Are Over
"Hubble bubble...toil, no trouble!"
Rather fittingly, 'Double Fantasy' has been living a double life for much of its thirty-five year existence. The album was released on November 17th 1980, breaking a five year wall of silence from John and Yoko, to initially devastatingly poor reviews and sluggish sales that led to an all-time Lennon chart low (not counting the 'unfinished music' LPs) of #14 in the UK and #11 in the US. Three weeks later the intended critical reviews had been withdrawn and pulped, the album quickly became the best-seller of the 1980 (despite only being eligible for sales across five weeks of the year) and 'Double Fantasy' went on to win the grammy for 'best album of 1982' (it was too late for entry in 1981 but the organisers couldn't bear the thought of leaving the album out!) Most of you will already have guessed the reasons why: this was the record Lennon paid for with his life, stepping into the public eye after five years away only to be gunned down on the steps of his own apartment, still clutching the master-tapes of a Yoko Ono track intended for release as a speedy-follow up. Though in life 'Double Fantasy' was a rather flimsy and lightweight album, underwhelming after five years of hibernation and stories had led fans to believe that if Lennon ever came back it would have to be with something massive and powerful, in death it became Lennon's last will and testament and the easiest purchase for fans to lay their hands on to pledge their allegiance to Lennon's ideals and values, perhaps forgetting that not much of what made Lennon great was actually on this LP. Somewhere along the road to mythology the line between the double lives has become blurred, with the several months of hearing nothing but Lennon's songs from this album and the fact that all of John's songs from this record have become must-haves for compilation albums (though almost certainly for material considerations, Geffen not having much other product to make licensing the songs on that label worthwhile) transforming this album's fortunes to the point where everyone now assumes it was always a 'classic' album and no one dares speaks ill of this album - even though for three weeks everyone hated it. All these decades on 'Double Fantasy' has been transformed into becoming Lennon's post-'Imagine' masterpiece, critics have been silenced and fans have all changed their opinion - all except me. Much as I still continue to mourn Lennon's death (even though it happened before I was born, I still see the Lennon-shaped hole in music where our great talent should be), much as I admire one of the greatest canons in music, much as I can see how moved people are by this album's unwitting 'final statements' of contentment that now ring out with such irony, I still can't love this album - because by Lennon's high standards there's nothing much here to love. 'Double Fantasy' is a playing-it-safe record by a man who'd never sunk so low as to play it safe for any length of time before, stretched out across half a record. Even the probable 'real' reason behind this record (that Lennon was afraid of being too 'down' because Sean was so good at picking up on his moods and he wanted his 'twin' - both the same day 35 years apart to be happy) makes sense for Lennon but not for the listener.
One of the people who felt angry and betrayed about this album was Lennon's killer Mark David Chapman, who never did offer a real motive for killing Lennon but came closest in a throwaway line to police that Lennon had become a 'sellout, a phoney' (thus mimicking a line Yoko herself uses to accuse Lennon on her iciest song 'I'm Moving On'; Chapman's line about 'wanting to become famous' was just made up copy by journalists trying to sell papers who knew they were never likely to get sued). One of the weirder aspects of the case is that - again despite the mythology that's now gone down in history - Chapman presented himself as a lifelong Lennon 'fan' despite having no Beatles or Lennon records in his collection at the time of his arrest and none of his friends or family remembering him showing any real interest in the fab four past watching the 'Ed Sullivan' show that everybody watched (in fact his reluctance to buy any Beatles records whatsoever marks him out from a good three-quarters of his generation). However the one exception was 'Double Fantasy', which Chapman had bought a week before travelling to New York from Hawaii and even got autographed a few hours before the murder when Chapman reportedly 'lost his bottle' with so many passers-by around and needed an excuse to be hanging round the Lennons' Dakota home. When asked why he considered Lennon a 'traitor' Chapman mentioned both this album and an interview for Rolling Stone Magazine published three days before the shooting on December 8th 1980. While no group, even the Spice Girls, deserve to be harmed in any way just because of their music - and there are far more arguments for why Chapman wasn't what he said he was (his blank conditioning, his odd behaviour, the expensive airplane flight he took despite nobody knowing where he got the money from, his lack of interest or knowledge in the Beatles and his confusing links to Russia and communism - though I still say Reagan is a more likely suspect given that the last thing Lennon did before tucking Sean in at night and mixing Yoko's track 'Walking On Thin Ice' was organise his first rally in eight years, on behalf of Japanese War Veterans living in America denied medical funding and social care) it's interesting that Chapman should consider himself 'betrayed' by this album and Lennon a 'phoney' for releasing it. Because that's more or less in line with what a lot of the (ultimately unpublished) reviews seemed to think of this album too - and what a few braver Lennon fans have sheepishly admitted to me down the years.
No artist is ever going to stand still and Lennon in particular was on the move permanently in his quest for the next new sound, so it's no surprise that his sound should have changed so drastically after five years out of the public eye. Perhaps sensibly, Lennon delays recapturing his youth for another time (though the first draft of intended sequel 'Milk and Honey' suggests a much more youthful album to come) and sings a lot about being 'middle aged'. However what's less forgivable across 'Double Fantasy' is how badly Lennon wants to re-write history, put down all his earlier mistakes to misguided youth and repeat over and over how much better contented middle age is than fighting the system. 'No rats aboard the perfect ship' Lennon sings smugly on 'Clean Up Time', a song that apparently flies in the face of every hippie ideal going. If you hear it in the right mindset, 'Watching The Wheels' basically tells fans that they were getting to be a drag and Lennon needed a break, never thinking of 'us' once. Many of the other songs sound smug and toothless compared to anything from Lennon's past- exaggerate all this by a five year wait for Lennon's anti-establishment roar and it's easy to see why this album was (at first) disliked as this record was and if any record was going to get you shot by a fan devastated by apparent utter betrayal then it's this one. Only Mark Chapman was not your average killer. He was no avenging hippie with a point to prove, just a security guard leading a boring life and a fixation with the book 'Catcher In The Rye' and in contrast to how most of the media portrayed him wasn't that much of a loner or a misfit - most of that came from vague acquaintances wanting to see their own names in print - and was happily married with a steady job, however low his wages (a novel I've always refused to read because of its close proximity in the case - Chapman handed it in to the arresting officer as his 'motive' and sat calmly reading it while Yoko and the Dakota security guards rushed around desperately for an ambulance - although from what others have told me there is no connection between the book and the deed except for a 'loner' character as Chapman undoubtedly was portrayed in kinder circumstances than normal).
And 'Double Fantasy' was in no way an accurate portrayal of the sheer hell Lennon had been through in the five years he'd been away. Lennon had first toyed with releasing an album in 1978 when the writing bug first began to hit him seriously, but depending on which source you read had either sunk into a dark depression that year or was so contented in his current life that he finally put his old demons to rest - either way the series of demos that Lennon recorded that year are nothing like 'Double Fantasy' - they're sad, lonely, self-critical, full of doubts and fears and have a 'haunted' quality that beats even 'Walls and Bridges' (imagine the 'Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' album without the screaming and even sparser performances). After writing his heart out across some twenty semi-finished songs Lennon seems to have abandoned his muse again for another two years, until the first half of 1980 when he was on holiday without Yoko but with friends, who were planning to sail to Bermuda (a favourite JohnandYoko holiday destination). Lennon had chosen his shipmates wisely and they were all experiences sailors, far more so than he, but a violent storm that raged for some twenty-four hours left even his hardened colleagues sea-sick and only Lennon was immune (because, so he thought, of all those years strung out on heroin when his body had trained itself never to be sick in 'public'). Stuck at the tiller facing heavy storms and singing sea shanties to keep himself awake, Lennon quickly ran out of songs so began to invent his own, unlocking his creative side as he faced mother nature head on. These immediate songs, so far as we can tell without dates, are the vibrant, largely joyous songs later to be released on 'Milk and Honey' full of life and hope. And yet Lennon passed almost all of these songs over for a sequence of songs written a few weeks later, when Lennon had re-found his sea-legs and had embarked on what he wanted his 'proper' comeback record to sound like.
I've often wondered why Lennon was so determined to make his record sound the way it did. Lennon seems to have been both terrified and excited at the thought of releasing this record, worried that his fanbase might have forgotten him while simultaneously wanting to 'reach out' to the audience with his latest set of discoveries ('well here we are at 40 and did you all get through it and wasn't the 70s a drag? Let's hope for better in the 80s!') He spent far longer working on the album than normal, with a far higher percentage of unreleased songs than any other Lennon album and a lot more re-takes than usual too, honing this album down with the help of Yoko and Jack Douglas and leaving all of the 'Lennon sounding' songs for another time. Why? Everything here sounds artificial and sentimental, as if in Yoko's words from the album, Lennon is putting on his 'window smile' and pretending everything is a-ok when, pre-1980 at least, it clearly wasn't - other performers we could 'forgive; for this much more but this the sort of schmaltz Lennon usually hated and spent his life trying to overthrow. Most reviewers at the time assumed that Lennon had simply gone soft in middle age - but while Lennon was understandably 'comfier' than his younger, restless self we know from the 1978 demos and the 'Milk and Honey' recordings that by far the most toothless songs all appeared on this record, suggesting it was deliberate. Now it probably doesn't help coming to this album so soon after re-reviewing the 'Plastic Ono Band's angry attack on anything less than 'real' but it's noticeable how few lyrics on this record deal with anything approaching 'real' feeling. 'Startin' Over' so screams 'comeback single' that it's easy to miss the fact that it doesn't really say anything. 'Woman' is a kinder, softer tribute to female-kind that Lennon had obviously been trying to say for years - but compare it to the outrage of 'Woman Is The Nigger Of The World' and you soon notice just how different Lennon's emotions are, from angry idealist to diluted crooner. 'Watching The Wheels' denies all sense of Lennon wasting his life away - but doesn't tell us what Lennon's been doing and lacks any sense of, well, anything (one of Lennon's greatest strengths was always wearing his heart on his sleeve so obviously, but these songs are so upfront about having nothing to say that for once it isn't ok). 'Dear Yoko' rewrites 'Oh Yoko' via 'Buddy Holly', a 'safe' option no matter how catchy it may be. Only the charming 'Beautiful Boy', written out of love for the second child Lennon thought he'd never have and the album's one 1978 leftover, the angry snappish 'I'm Losing You' have any 'real' emotion and everything else rings hollow somehow. Even Yoko snaps 'I'm moving on, you're getting phoney' in reply. Yet 'Double Fantasy' could have been oh so different - a far superior version of 'I'm Losing You' with a then-contemporary new wave act Cheap Trick playing instead of the sessions musicians - was nixed at John's insistence even though Yoko adored it. The tracks from 'Milk and Honey' recorded at the same session have emotion in droves: 'I'm Steppin' Out' (joy), 'Nobody Told Me' (frustration), 'Grow Old Along With Me' (love), 'My Little Flower Princess' (guilt) and 'Borrowed Time' (nostalgia) have exactly what this album is 'missing' (I'm not sure it would have saved Lennon from death, but had he switched his albums round and kept 'Milk and Honey' far less critics and fans would have 'betrayed' on release).
What makes this sudden 'false Lennon' antiseptic sound worse is that we can only blame part of it on the period technology. Jack Douglas, chosen deliberately by Yoko for his 'sound' with bands like Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick and Miles Davis, expertly helps Yoko get her songs onto tape whilst sounding fresh and contemporary and was clearly chosen because of his track record making rockers sound hard and edgy. Many fans expected Lennon to come out sounding like Cheap Trick when they heard the news of his appointment (ie something more like 'Milk and Honey') making what turned up on this album even more of a shock. He could - and briefly did - have done the same for Lennon: the 'Cheap Trick' 'I'm Losing You' shows just how great this record have been - and though sketchy 'beginner's takes' much of 'Milk and Honey' has a far more timeless-yet-of-its-time sound than 'Double Fantasy'. This finished record just sounds over-polished and lush, curiously mixed so that all of Lennon's witty asides are ducked low in the mix. Perhaps the real reason this record gets on my nerves so much is that it sounds like a series of in-jokes we were never intended to hear (the album is full of messages to Sean and Yoko, buried until the oh-so-superior-I-can't-believe-it's-the-same-album 'Stripped Down' remix in 2010 laid them bare). I've never understood why - Lennon was always leaving 'messages' for fans but we'd always been able to hear them before, even if we played them backwards - and what are we to make of the 'don't sell a cow' story' or Lennon's monologue sent from Bermuda instead of a postcard (which cuts off a few words in, even though the 'Stripped' Down' version reveals it to be a most beautiful Lennonisms, about how he's bought Yoko a painting and isn't sure if he should tell her even though he'll be home long before the painting 'and it's hanging up right now behind your desk, right?') Thankfully 'Milk and Honey' will be full of even more spontaneity like this and Douglas' own work isn't too far removed from this style - so the lack of this style across 'Double Fantasy' (indeed the lack of any humour at all, unless you count the woeful attempt on Yoko's 'Yes I'm Your Angel') must have been Lennon's decision. Why? These songs could have done with more charm and humour. Given how Yoko's records came out sounding fresh and innervated it also seems fair to say that Lennon chose to ignore the new wave sound Douglas had been hired to provide. Why? Lennon had been no hermit while he'd been away, scouring the charts for anything of interest and like his wife he'd fallen in love with new wave (his next lot of sessions booked after 'Double Fantasy' weren't for his own record but to record a cover of Blondie's 'Heart Of Glass' for Ringo, with a country and western spoof ':Life Begins At 40' and 'Nobody Told Me' pencilled in for the drummer too). When asked once why he returned when he did, Lennon even giggled that he's just heard Paul McCartney's most new wave-ish single 'Coming Up' on the radio and, impressed, thought he'd better get going too 'because Paul's writing was suddenly so good' (he added, correctly in my view, that 'I prefer the freaky version he did in his garage to the live one in Glasgow and I thought the record company had a nerve making him change it!') Usually Lennon was ahead of the pack - but compared to what Macca was doing naturally with 'Macca II' in this period and what George was doing when pushed with 'Somewhere In England' Double Fantasy' is eons behind, not just a five-year retirement. Just picture what this album could have been: a record with the material of 'Milk and Honey', played with the feel of new wave and the inventiveness of 'Coming Up' - how on earth did we end up with the album we got?
What makes it worse in a way is that Yoko is on top form across this album, her own 'return' to the music world after six years away (and even then her second-best album 'A Story', recorded in 1974, wasn't released thanks in part to her estrangement from Lennon who wasn't forcing her records though on 'Apple' the way he once had). Some mis-guided critics then and now have said that the only reason 'Double Fantasy' got bad reviews was because of the decision to put John and Yoko's songs on an album together - for the first time since 'Sometimes In New York City' in 1972. Not so: firstly one of the few things about this album that works is its 'conversational' tone, a 'dual' take on themes that leads us to see things first from John's point of view and then his wife's (at least it does until the curious decision to disrupt the flow of the album by having side one ends with 'Beautiful Boy'; and side two start with 'Watching The Wheels'). This works particularly well with 'Beautiful Boy' being answered straight away by Yoko's 'Beautiful Boys' (comparing toddler Sean with his 40-year-old dad) and Yoko's Give Me Something' segueing into John's pained 'I'm Losing You'. Yes the 'conversational' concept loses its way outside these tracks but hey - 'Sgt Peppers' only stayed a concept for three tracks! However what doesn't work is that John and Yoko's songs now sound so alien from each other - with 'Double Fantasy' made effectively as two different records (with Yoko working in the afternoon and John at night; Douglas has been quite open the fact that this was because the pair, so loving in private, tended to argue and bicker like mad when working on their music and the idea of a truly joint effort was abandoned early on when it was clear nothing would get done). Secondly, Yoko's songs are simply better than her husband's. Though Lennon is languishing in middle age at forty, his wife at forty-seven is still very much keeping up with trends and her anguished punkish tracks are perfect for the 'new wave' acts big in 1980: the conceptual art of 'Kiss Kiss Kiss' (in which a double-tracked Yoko orgasms in stereo), the angry spitting safety-pinned 'Give Me Something', the accusatory 'I'm Moving On' and the trippy 80s psychedelia of 'Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him' are absolutely what contemporary acts are doing in this period - all those tough rock chicks like Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark who came with the same idea of 'art' and method and feistiness of Yoko. Lennon recognised it too, hearing The B-52s on the radio in 1979 and saying to Yoko 'listen, that's you!' (possibly looking them out after hearing that old mate Paul Simon was raving about them having 'borrowed' them as the 'new' for his film about washed up one-hit wonder Jonah in 1980's 'One Trick Pony'. one of Jonah's band members, Tony Levin, plays bass on this album as it happens so they might well have cropped up in conversation; Paul also lived in New York City and while not a regular visitor didn't live all that far away - the). The rest has clearly done Yoko good, giving her a chance to bottle up her feelings about being away from music and art for so long (like Lennon she was in hibernation and keen to bring up Sean 'properly', though she dealt with all the 'business' from an office in the Dakota building - though unlike Lennon it wasn't through choice of leaving the music business behind) and with Lennon's support Yoko was finally getting the due recognition she'd deserved for so long (everybody now assumes 'Walking On Thin Ice' was a strong seller because it was the first song released after Lennon's death - not so, everyone who'd heard the song being worked on across Lennon's final week were adamant she was about to get her first solo 'hit' and many young acts adored it, especially in the 'club' scene). Yoko's youthful energy makes Lennon's pipe-and-slippers all the more apparent, though, even if it does liven up the LP considerably (the unfortunate atrocity 'Yes I'm Your Angel' aside).
This album has troubled me for decades now, partly because it's at such odds with the records around it and partly because everyone else seems to wax lyrical about this album while ignoring the Lennon albums that really deserve it ('Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' 'Walls and Bridges' even the under-rated M'ind Games'). However I had a whole new angle to think about when Yoko decided to remix 'Double Fantasy' for the Lennon 'Signature' set released for what would have been John's 70th birthday on October 9th 2010 and I can't tell whether that's been good for my understanding of the album at all. Now to be fair this new mix is brilliant - usually 'remixes' spell disaster for AAA bands, causing fans to fork their money out for something even monekynuts collectors like me can't see that much difference in. but this one is positively different in every way. Much of the 1980s technology has been taken out, bits of Lennon cut out from the final mix have been re-instated (so we get much more of his vocals and guitar-work) and the work sounds much more 'timeless' than it did (many of the first critical notices remark just how dated and 50s Lennon's recordings sound, in great contrast to Yoko's). Many of the Lennonisms that were so hard to hear the first time round have been restored and they're brilliant, from Lennon's opening evocation of all his muses, all sadly gone by 1980 ('This one's for Gene and Eddie and Elvis...and Buddy!') to his sly closing remarks on 'Hard Times Are Over' ('When I hold you in my armchair...Goodbye! Heh heh heh!...All done!') that recall both his retirement farewell on 'Just Because' and his cynical 'goodbye-ee!' on the Sgt Pepper's reprise that says more in a second than ringmaster McCartney manages in 150. Some songs are a true revelation: Yoko's 'Every
There's nothing here that couldn't have been done at the time - so why not do it? (The 'remix' idea - first practised by Kate Bush for her early 1980s monstrosities - is a potentially great AAA series: a few other candidates that should be first in the queue for being 'stripped down' include CSN's 'Live It Up', Paul Simon's 'Hearts and Bones', Pink Floyd's 'A Momentary Lapse Of Reason', Neil Young's 'Landing On Water' and fellow Beatle Paul's 'Press To Play' and 'George's 'Gone Troppo'!)
The problem may have been how many youngsters Lennon was surrounding himself with. Douglas was potentially the perfect sounding board for the project, with a knowledge and understanding of contemporary music and yet a genuine love and enthusiasm for Lennon's period as well (onlookers were surprised at how well the two got on and so quickly - recalling Lennon's friendship with Phil Spector without the shouting or guns) yet may have been slightly too awe-struck to make Lennon go back and re-do his 'bad bits'. Record label Geffen were then in their infancy and didn't have the same commercial clout and mixing know-how that a bigger label would have delivered (John and Yoko, unsure how well they would sound, made the recordings in private at first, paying for them with their own money and offering them unheard to different labels - Geffen won primarily because they treated John and Yoko as equal partners). (In fact you could say that Geffen were 'cursed' by the signing - they lost a lot of money when Lennon died and of course wasn't able to fulfil his multi-album deal; their attempt at a big-name replacement - Neil Young - will be similarly unhappy, ending in a notorious court case against the guitarist for 'releasing albums that didn't sound like what people had come to expect from Neil Young'). Lennon was notoriously shy and unsure of his own worth, particularly as a singer but sometimes as a writer too, and seems to have done what he told George Martin and Phil Spector but which the pair sensibly ignored: 'make my voice more hidden! Cover me up with everything else!' Douglas, overwhelmed to be working with a Beatle with much more experience, seems to have largely done what he was told - much to the record's ultimate cost. For despite my diatribe across this review there are parts of 'Double Fantasy' worth the rescue (and worth forking out for the 'Stripped Down' version for).
'Beautiful Boy' proves that Lennon could skirt sentiment if he chose (though so often on this record he just plunged in head-first), demonstrating just why he chose to stay out of the musical spotlight for so long to witness the miracle of birth and to see his boy growing up. 'I'm Losing You' might not match past classics but it adds some rare pain and honesty that's always welcome to hear from Lennon's mouth. 'Watching The Wheels' has an interesting concept behind it, even if it is ultimately a very boring song. 'Woman' has a very pretty Beatley tune, even if the words are far less inspired. Yoko's 'Kiss Kiss Kiss', 'Give Me Something' and 'I'm Moving On' reinvent her style quite wonderfully for a new era, while 'Beautiful Boys' offers one last gorgeous 70s style prog rock lament farewell to it. The album cover, of JohnandYoko in full embrace, is what album covers were made for and the album title (the name was taken from a rose) is clever and very in keeping with the great JohnandYoko tradition and the concept of swapping stories and viewpoints back and forth, though ultimately fudged, was very much an idea worth pursuing. I just wish that there was a bit more oomph about this album, which manages to out-bore even 'Sometime In New York City' in terms of theme and 'Mind Games' in terms of performance and that Lennon's farewell message had been a properly composed goodbye musing on Lennon's usual themes of life, love and death rather than a hastily scribbled note penned between the shopping lists and fleshed out to record-size. Had Lennon lived and had his career gone the way of the darker yet sparkier 'Milk and Honey', perhaps returning to the darker demos of 1978 for a third comeback record, 'Double Fantasy; would have been forgotten, dismissed as a curio back in the days when Lennon hadn't quite woken up from his five year slumber yet. No doubt, knowing this site, this review would have been full of reasons why it deserves a second shot and isn't quite the 'failure' everyone thinks it is. But of course nobody thinks of this album as a failure - people think of it as an amazing success story, one that was loved and treasured from the moment of release and features Lennon at his best, to the point where no best-ofs are complete without all of Lennon's songs from this album and curious Beatle newcomers don't bother getting to know much else because they're so badly put off by how sterile and false everything from this record seems. Only a tragedy the scale of Lennon's death could disguise what an awful mess most of this album is by his own high standards - and how much we owe it to Lennon's legacy to stop talking this album up and instead explore his lesser known, forgotten works before they disappear from view.
'(Just Like) Startin' Over' sums up the album nicely - it's blandly pleasant and at the time of release as the first single from the album was greeted with shock by fans who were alarmed at just how...cosy Lennon sounded. The song flopped badly on first release and had disappeared from the charts a week before Lennon died - only to hold the number one slot for three of the four weeks after his death (when it lagged behind Bryan Ferry's Lennon tribute 'Jealous Guy'). With any other artist this phrase would be a compliment, but given the history between them it's actually an insult to call this Lennon's most 'McCartney-ish' single. It's all too obviously crafted, slot A fits a little too snugly into slot B and you can almost hear Lennon going 'what would make a good comeback single? I know - a song full of a metaphor about taking the missus out on the town like the old days'. What's odd is that while the end product sounds totally self-contained and crafted, it was actually written out using the 'old fashioned' Lennon method of being pieced together from lots of different songs that stretched back over several months (possibly back to that Bermuda trip). Several demos exist on bootleg and were broadcast on the 'Lost Lennon Tapes' radio series under the names 'Crazy' and 'The Worst Is Over Now', which is actually a much better song, about recovering from years of knockbacks to live the comfortable peaceful contented existence a younger Lennon could only dream of. There is, then, a real heart beating within this song but it's hard to find it what with an anti-septic pop backing that recalls the 'Rock and Roll' album's lifeless attempt at turning the clock back to the 1950s and throwing the magic out with the rough edges. Lennon's vocal is weedy (the one time he badly needs to double-track his vocal he doesn't!), the backing singers turn the whole thing into an unfortunate clod-hopping gospel and though the song seems to be leading up to a magic solo where it all comes together the backing band never get to do anything more than just plod along. More convincing is the opening tinkle of a wind chime - mimicking the beginning of Lennon's 'last' career in 1970 (the funeral bells that introduced 'Mother') and replacing that anger and desperation with a sound of joy and love which is all very Lennon. Unfortunately though the song isn't: 'Startin Over' has little in common with the Lennon that came before and all sounds woefully middle-aged with the roar against injustice, greed and suffering replaced by a ditsy lyric about taking a break from not doing much anyway. Lennon tells us that 'we have grown' to this point, but doesn't sound that convinced of the fact himself. The 'Stripped Down' version is better, thanks to a lovely opening invocating all of Lennon's old influences, a louder Hugh McCracken guitar part and the absence of that awful choir - but it still sounds lightweight by his old standards.
'Kiss Kiss Kiss' is much more like it, Yoko instantly summing up the sound of 1980 in the same way she effortlessly tapped into the sound of 1974 the last time around on 'A Story'. Though Yoko too sings about comfort in middle age and of the fact she now effectively has kisses on tap, she reminds us that it wasn't always like this, adding in an angry middle eight ('Why me why you? Broken mirror white terror!') like she's turned into Debbie Harry on acid and perhaps referring to the use of 'bells' in her husband's art by telling us that she's driven on 'by the sound of that childhood bell ringing in my soul'. Primal scream therapy clearly didn't bring closure to Yoko's demons the way they did her husband's and we'll get a lot more of this sort of thing on her next solo album, the heartbroken 'Season Of Glass' in 1981. However the mpost thrilling moment - and one that even contemporary acts would have thought hard about including - is the extraordinary middle eight where Yoko drops all pretence about love being reduced to kissing and instead comes to orgasm twice over in stereo over the song's insistent angry beat. Yoko, notoriously shy despite how she seemed in public, found she couldn't record this at first so instead sent all the engineers and musicians out of the room, turned the lights down low and 'faked' her climax twice over, in the name of art. It's the one truly memorable passage of the entire album, Yoko dropping her guard to prove just how much those kisses mean to her and how far she's come to get to the point where she feels 'safe' enough to do this sort of thing for her art. This all returns to an old Yoko classic theme - her sense of reserve and the sea of emotions bubbling below the surface she can't bring herself to demonstrate openly and it's well arranged this song, with Andy Newmarks' pounding drums and Hugh McCracken's powerful guitarwork recalling the best of 'Approximately Infinite Universe' and hinting at the sea of emotions below the surface, contained by Yoko's prim and proper vocals, broken only by her 'little girl' voice overdubbed on top.
'Clean Up Time' is a surprisingly ugly song for such a 'clean' song. Lennon was inspired to write the song after his first meeting with Jack Douglas where the pair were discussing the changes to the music scene since Lennon's retirement in 1975. Then the music scene, Lennon's especially, had been full of hard drugs and booze and yet by 1980 the new guard had moved on to a cleaner way of living and the old guard were either changing their ways or dying off. 'Well, it's cleanup time at last I guess!' Jack shrugged, leading Lennon to laugh in reply 'it sure is' - John's sub-conscious having been opening by all his recent songwriting the phrase stuck with him all day and had become a song by the end of the night. Unfortunately it's not one of his better ideas - while the idea of 'cleaning up' is a good one, allowing a former addict to reflect on the better space his head is in these days (Lennon was something of a health addict during his house-husband years, turning to brown macrobiotic rice and refusing all alcohol and most drugs - despite what you may have read in Albert Goldman's rather alarming series of Lennon books) Lennon wastes the opportunity by turning this into another rather McCartney-ish song about a fictional contented couple. The lyrics recall 'Cry Baby Cry' with their tale of the King and Queen but this time round the couple are clearly John and Yoko themselves, the Queen 'in the counting house, counting out her money' while the King is 'in the kitchen, making bread and honey'. There's no sense anywhere, though, that this song has come to any conclusions and the lyrics offer no reason for the change - just a description of how peaceful Lennon's current life is. A middle eight adds some belated tension with a scary horror-movie style chord step that causes Lennon to half-yell 'Weeeeeeeeeeell' just like the bad ol' days, but this just ends up becoming another strutting solo part for the clinical saxophones to parp through. The melody too is awful, the musical equivalent of a heavy robot trying to make its way downstairs, clunking where it should soar and stuck in rut rather than sounding 'free' as the lyrics spend so much time promising. The 'Stripped Down' version again improves the song by placing Lennon up front in the mix so you can actually hear him and taking away much of the extraneous noise so that only a twin guitar part and a drum thump can be heard and Lennon's vocal is a delight when you can hear it properly, full of gasp and shrieks and some very Lennonisms (that spoken word intro we never used to be able to hear turns out to be 'hubble bubble, toil no trouble' and Lennon ad libs 'it's Christmas time, yes it's that time of year again...' during the fadeout.
Yoko's 'Give Me Something' rips that image of a contented life to shreds. 'The food is cold, your eyes are cold, the window's cold, the bed's cold!' she snaps, clearly at her husband, pleading 'give me something that's not cold, come on come on!' as if she's preparing to walk out there and then. Taking a leaf from Lennon's song 'Scared' she goes through it all again, replacing the word 'cold' with the word 'hard'. Throughout the song's angular stabs twist this way and that, as if trying to get comfy, but the 'living's hard' and Yoko's at the end of her tether. 'Give me give me give me!' she demands by the end, while a second Yoko in the distance retches to show her distaste. However contented Lennon really was (and the 1978 demos suggest he wasn't as contented as all that), Yoko clearly wasn't and her unveiling of what sounds like the 'real' truth of the pair's years in private - on the day she wrote the song at least - is a real punch to the stomach with a pair of doc martins, with all the more impact given that this album spends much of its time so comfortable in slippers. A terrific Hugh McCracken guitar solo recalls Wayne Gabriel's sterling work on 'Approximately Infinite Universe' and is a sound that could cut bread, mimicking the rising bile in Yoko's throat as she tries hard to suppress her desperation at getting something, anything back from her husband. The song has nowhere to go after 90 seconds so instead of just repeating everything again Yoko sensibly brings the song to as weary halt. Underlining that this relationship is now a one-way street she quietly announces that 'I'll give you my heartbeat, a little tear and flesh' telling Lennon that while it's not much 'you can have it, you can have it!' while icy chords sound like a door is being slammed right in his face. You wonder what Lennon made of such an honest and open song, especially at a time when he himself was covering up his own honesty so much. It's another of the album's highlights, full of more than enough energy and emotion for the two of them.
The song may also have inspired Lennon's best song on the album in response. 'I'm Losing You' is a brief return to if not the 'Plastic Ono Band' days of bitterness then certainly 'Walls and Bridges' sense of desperation and turmoil. This song is one of the earliest on the album, written on holiday in Bermuda when Lennon tried to call up Yoko back home and discovered to his horror that he couldn't get through (notorious for its stormy weather, the island may simply not have had a good enough reception or one of the phone wires may have been broken). The incident reminded him of his 'lost weekend' phases when he spent hours staring at the telephone ringing Yoko to ring him and inspired what at last is a genuinely inspired song from Lennon who uses the metaphor for not being able to communicate with his wife in a wider sense. 'You say you're not getting enough' he sighs, recalling Yoko's complaints from the last song, but doesn't know how to put things right. 'What the hell am I supposed to do?' he demands, 'just put a band-aid on it?' The wounds from 1972 (when JohnandYoko went to a party, with John leaving his wife downstairs while he had sex with a guest upstairs and left Yoko feeling taken for granted, one of the triggers for the 'lost weekend') has been forgiven but not forgotten, a desperate Lennon telling his wife 'I know I hurt you then - but hell that was way back when and do you still have to carry that cross?' Eventually losing his eruditeness John takes on Yoko at her own game, demanding that she 'drop it!' to a heavy, crunching guitar riff, but like 'Jealous Guy' he knows he's the one at fault and cannot work out a way to put things right. Lennon ends up simply feeling sorry for himself, singing the chorus from the skiffle track 'Long Lost John' over the fadeout in lonely despair (a busked version of the whole song from the 'Plastic Ono band' sessions later appeared on the 'Lennon Anthology' box set). The climax of the song comes a little before that, though, with a terrifying chord sequence where two Lennons chase themselves over and over across a descending set of chords grimly trying to hold on from a great height, as if John is chasing Yoko to their mutual doom. It's Lennon's one 'real' moment on the album and he's more than up for it, turning in a terrific vocal (even if again the mix makes it hard to hear), making you regret all the more how far he's fallen across the rest of the album. There are in fact four very different versions of this song around, all of which sound great.The 'Stripped Down' version makes a great song even better, putting Lennon's guilt right under a spotlight and taking all the effects away, although a better version yet appeared on the 'Anthology' box set when after Douglas' urging Lennon was backed by Cheap Trick for one song only. A third version - a piano ballad titled 'Stranger's Room' also released on 'Anthology' - is pretty special too even if Lennon hasn't come up with a 'proper' ending yet. It's an even more powerful performance and one that both Yoko and Douglas pleaded with him to use - Lennon, though, preferred the slightly less unhinged quality of this track.
Yoko replies immediately with 'I'm Moving On', a hurt ballad revved up to being another rocker which sounds very much like her 'hurt' songs from the 'Universe' and 'Feeling The Space' period. 'Save your kisses' she demands, contradicting her earlier song, 'You know you scarred me for life!' Yoko, authentic to the last, threatens to move away for good this time if Lennon doesn't change her ways, telling Lennon what must have hurt him the most to hear - that after years of being the most 'real' pair in rock 'you're getting phoney'. Yoko reflects sadly on how she always used to know how her husband was feeling, how the emotion was always there in his voice and his eyes, but now all she gets is his fake 'window smile' and that's not good enough for here -she wants 'the truth and nothing more', however ugly or dark that might be. Pushed to more great heights Yoko is inspired to bring back her old-style squealing one last time as two of her hold on to her final note ('I'm moving ooooooooooooon!') for what seems like an eternity before she mad anger dies out and leaves her making her mouth noises (last heard on 'Fly' in 1971) to bring the song to a collapsing close. It's another powerful moment that takes you by surprise, with Yoko once again trumping John's material and differing from her husband by expressing her independence and that unlike Lennon she can exist outside the JohnandYoko story. For once the 'Stripped Down' version doesn't improve the song and simply messes around with the elements that made up the song - Yoko's emotion already came though the finished product loud and clear no matter what the slick production had to had. Sadly a reported outtake with 'Cheap Trick' recorded the same day they did 'I', Losing You', remains in the vault even though Yoko considered this too to be the better version.
The one moment of cosiness on 'Double Fantasy' that sounds sincere is Lennon's haunting 'Beautiful Boy'. Written for Sean somewhere around his fourth birthday in October 1979, it's a lovely song that subverts Lennon's usual mantra to the world that 'it's gonna be alright!' to his own son. John sounds protective, adding that the 'monster's gone' and that in absentia (was this song finished off in Bermuda?) his love is all the stronger. Wondering on how much he's missed out during a week away from home, Lennon grows impatient to see everything of his son growing up - 'I can hardly to wait to see you come of age' he sighs, 'but I guess we'll both just have to be patient'. Lennon also comes up with his single best line on the album: 'Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans'. It's meant as a bit of advice from father to son, but as ever with Lennon it works equally well in the universal sense as the personal. I'm less keen on the melody, which uses a calypso reggae feel (that settles it - this was almost definitely written in Bermuda!) and settles into a slow-burning groove early on and stays there, but even that suits the overall cosiness of this song, with Lennon's twinkling vocal delivering just the right amount of pathos. I still prefer the demo, though, with Lennon using his guitar to tell the story instead of an entire steel band - this is one of those intimate songs that sounds all the better for being sparse (there's one on 'Anthology' although there's an even better and even sparser version out on bootleg). Of all the songs to play back after Lennon's death this is the hardest to listen to, with Lennon desperate to skip forward in time to see Sean turn eighteen (which he did in 2003) with us knowing well that he won't be there to see it first-hand. What a tragedy that, after vowing to take parenting seriously the second time around (poor Julian, born in 1963, barely saw his busy Beatle dad) and vowing to be there forever that turned out not to be true for a reason out of Lennon's hands. 'Goodnight' Lennon whispers 'See you in the morning' as if he's just been singing this performance directly to his sleeping son, not realising how few mornings were still left. The song was always one of the better loved on the album the 'first' time round anyway but had grown in stature ever since and is many fans' favourite Lennon song (not least Paul McCartney's, who chose this song as his 'desert island disc' favourite in 1982, the only Beatle-related choice of his eight). The 'Stripped Down' version doesn't add a lot more, but Lennon's clearer vocal is even more of a delight. 'Beautiful Boy' may not sound much like the rest of Lennon's oeuvre, it may lack the distinctiveness and courage of his best work, but it's the one song here that demonstrates that this easier more comfortable way of life was good for the art as well as the soul.
'Watching The Wheels' starts side two in defensive mood. Lennon addresses the 'missing' five year period head on, remembering the 'advice' that 'friends' like Paul and Mick Jagger were giving him in absence to come out of retirement and recalls how he was called both 'lazy' and 'crazy' by peers who couldn't understand why anyone would turn their back on such a career. So far so good - but rather than answer with what Lennon has really been doing (Watching his boy grow up! Rooting himself in the 'real' world! Having fun fort himself after a lifetime of providing entertainment for other people!') Lennon just grumpily tells us that he's been 'watching the wheels go round and round'. The lyric has its moments ('There are no problems - only solutions' is a very Lennonish quote that would have gone well with 'Whatever Gets You Thru The Night') but not enough of them - for the most part this is a boring song and it's a song that can't afford to be boring: it's the long awaited continuation of a lifelong conversation between artist and fan that JohnandYoko had spent their careers having and, well, it's forgettable. Welcome as it is to hear that Lennon jumped off the merry-go-und that was causing him pain, why didn't he do a better job of telling us how much better his new life is? Someone like Ray Davies would have made this song about returning to the simple things in life after a year of being the centre of attention the most moving thing on the record - Lennon sounds as if he's reading a shopping list, with what must surely be his most forgettable melody in years. The 'Stripped Down' version is funkier, but it can only improve the performance not the song. Oddly, 'Wheels' was another song Lennon worked on for years (it may well have been his first written in his house-husband days) but earlier versions of the song are far more interesting: the travelogue 'Tennessee' and especially the 'In My Life' style 'Memories'. Even on an album of lost opportunities this is the one that got away.
However Lennon is saved the ignominy of having the worst song on the album thanks to Yoko's excruciating roaring twenties spoof 'Yes I'm Your Angel'. Effectively a copycat version of 'Makin' Whoopee' without the wit or even the rhyming structure (the whole point of the original song), Yoko was even sued by Gus Kahn's publishers - they seemed to have a strong case but to their credit weren't mean enough to pursue it after Lennon's death and quietly dropped it altogether by 1981. This really is the worst of Yoko all in one song - heer trite 'little girl persona' is her less flattering 'character', her vocal is shrill and annoying and she hits every note flat, destroying a genre without ever showing any signs of understanding what made it work (to be fair even someone who does know how these songs work - Paul McCartney - can't write these sort of songs either, with 'You Gave Me The Answer' and 'Honey Pie' only slight less excruciating than this). The song starts with some confusing sound effects which according to Lennon's comments in period interviews represented him going for a walk through a time tunnel that opened up and finding himself meeting Yoko in a previous life performing in a New York nightclub, wolf-whistling along to her performance. You wish that he'd met any of Yoko's other past lives instead - she was almost certainly Boadicea and Yoko herself believed the pair to be the reincarnations of Elizabethan poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (there's more of this on 'Milk and Honey' by the way...) - but this past life is just awful. The 'Stripped Down' versions adds more Lennon, which is welcome, but also more Ono, which isn't.
'Woman' was another big hit for Lennon and his first posthumous single where it reached number one in early 1981 (it could hardly sell any less really could it?) Lennon apparently always intended this song as the second single from the album - possibly after rush-releasing 'Walking On Thin Ice' - and you could see why as it's another oddly McCartney-like structured pop song with a hummable chord sequence and lyrics that won't shock the neighbours. In one sense it's a breakthrough song for Lennon, who had spent so many years pushing for the feminist unit and attacking male chauvinism (including his own) now simply turning to how wonderful women can be. He admitted that he was thinking of his mother Julia and even his aunt Mimi and Astrid Kirchher as much as Yoko in this song by the way - though his dedication 'to the other half of the sky' is taken directly from Yoko's book of sayings 'Grapefruit'. However, nice though the song is, there's something awfully false about it all. McCartney can get away with this sort of thing (his track 'My Love' is very similar) because we know that this is how his brain 'works' - that's he's as liable to consider audience and appeal and think in terms of symmetry and neatness when he's writing as much as the genuine emotion that inspired the song. Lennon's brain, though, isn't traditionally that tidy - it's through the rough edges, frayed endings and asymmetry where Lennon's true self always lurks. 'Woman' is one of Lennon's few songs where none of that 'real'ness is on display and so for all it's good points 'Woman' just ends up being another pop song of the sort the older more bitter Lennon would himself have been sneering at (he hated 'My Love' for instance!) Lennon's attempts to 'breath-in' during the chorus (recalling The Beatles' 'Girl') and the Buddy Holly-style hiccup ought to be clever - but in this context they just make this overtly pop and popular song all the more artificial and false. The 'Stripped Down' version is a major improvement though, adding Lennon's warm voice rather than keeping him at a distance which makes a lot more sense of the song.
Yoko's tribute 'Beautiful Boys' really belongs back with 'Beautiful Boy' as it's less about mankind than about the pair she knows well. Yoko's ambiguous lyric is clever, leaving us unsure if she's singing about husband or son (Lennon liked his 'toys' too!) and her lyric shows that she 'gets' John in a way far deeper than he seems to 'get' her. 'You got all you can carry yet somehow feels kind of empty' is her best line on the album, summing up what's taken Lennon a career to realise. 'Never be afraid to cry' is her motherly advice to son Sean, whose already learning the 'grown up' way of using reserve and talking for his feelings, while her advice to her husband is closer to home with what she's been seeing across this album: 'Never be afraid to fly'. Noticing her husband's new found love of travelling after his 'green card' (why the hell was it actually blue?!) came through Yoko encourages him to see the world after a lifetime of 'going to hell and back' but warns him that seeing the world won't help him see himself ('You can go from pole to pole and never scratch your soul'). As George Harrison would have told him 'inner space is the answer - not outer space'. A lovely melody does much to add meaning to this song, especially oddly enough the much more 80s production on 'Stripped Down', full of maternal pride mixed with worry and concern. It's another album highlight and is the one song on the album that seems to come with the feeling of 'ominous alarm' that will appear on pretty much all of Yoko's recording for the rest of the decade. Hugh McCracken's flamenco guitar flourishes shouldn't fit this decidedly un-demonstrative song and yet they sound perfect - Yoko really had a way of getting the best out of her guitarists!
John signs off with the last song released on his lifetime the charming but slight 'Dear Yoko', a lazy re-write of his earlier not-that-strong 'Oh Yoko' from 1971. A Buddy Holly style 50s backing track is cute enough and Lennon's vocal is a delight as he spits out a quick-stepping lyric about how much his wife means to him. It's a delight to hear Lennon so happy that he turns the line 'never ever ever gonna let you go' into poetry and there's a gorgeous middle eight, that slides in from nowhere and takes us by surprise with the sheer power of Lennon's feelings. However even by 'Double Fantasy' standards it's all rather twee - the younger Lennon would never have written a lyric like 'the Gods have really smiled upon out love, Dear Yoko' and it's exactly the sort of lazy writing John would have condemned in his Beatle colleagues. Once again the 'Stripped Down' version is better, injecting more life into the song underneath all the honking harmonicas (sadly none of them played by Lennon, one of the greatest players of the instrument!) but the really good versions of this song are all on bootlegs, the simple two chord strumming bringing out much of the 'realness' on this song than any amount of production overdubs. In case you were wondering the 'don't sell a cow' speech heard over the fade is an 'in-joke' discussed by Lennon in what turned out to be his last interview for Playboy Magazine: one of the weirder aspects of the Lennon business empire was investing in dairy farms (though less hands on than McCartney). John had taken Sean out for another holiday and was hoping Yoko would fly out to join them - but she wanted to see that a transaction over a rare breed took place before she flew out and the bargaining ended up dragging on for days (Yoko eventually sold it for $60,000 - Lennon's comment being 'only Yoko could sell a cow for that much!') That's why Lennon ad libs 'next time you come over don't sell a cow - come over and spend some time with the kids...'
Yoko's 'Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him' used to be another of my least favourite tracks on the record. It's the first of only two occasions where John and Yoko sing together and you can tell why they don't do more of this across the album - both are terrible flat straining to stay in tune with the other and the very 1980 production of lots of criss-crossing guitars and the cold alien synth landscape is distinctly unappetising. This is made worse by the decision to release a remixed version of this song without Yoko's voice as a now hard-to-find single: Lennon's vocal, only ever meant as a harmony part, is his worst on record when heard as a 'lead' part even if his voice really suits the song's sense of desperation and longing. The 'Stripped Down' version is a revelation, however, turning the song into a slow-burning ballad that's a lament for everyone whose ever struggled to find their life partner. The fact that Yoko is about to lose hers makes this track incredibly powerful and hints that she too shared Lennon's inability to commit and settle down: 'Why do I roam when I know you're the one? Why do I laugh when I feel like crying?' The theme that every single person has a soulmate but that they come at a cost is a very Yoko image and the idea that everyone can tell simply by listening to their heartbeat or staring into their eyes could have come straight out of 'Grapefruit'. Hearing Lennon intone the line 'in rain or shine' (recalling his lyric for Beatles B-side 'Rain') and 'in life and death' like the grim reaper is a very eerie moment in either version, however.
Thankfully the album ends not there but on the weary upbeat of Yoko's 'Hard Times Are Over'. Summing up the difficult path both John and Yoko have trodden since they first stepped down their mutual road, Yoko recalls her own 'Waiting For The Sunrise' from 1972 by picturing the sun coming out after a storm. Musically it's the one song of Yoko's on the album that looks back and could have come from her earlier Apple career, with a slight country and western saloon-bar feel. Thankfully it's more like her inspired 'Universe' work than her lesser 'Feeling The Space' era. Like Lennon she's contented and at peace, but unlike many of her husband's songs on this album she makes it clear that it's the sort of unwinding that comes after a hard-fought for day in a hot bath - the couple deserve this rest because they've been nearly broken by what life has to throw at them. Lennon's harmony vocal, sadly ducked in the album mix, is much louder on the superior 'Stripped Down' version and turns this song of solidarity into an anthem for JohnandYoko both as they celebrate how 'hard times are over - for a while'. Tragically those hard times are about to begin again a mere three weeks after people first got to hear this track, turning what should have been a rousing album finale into a track now laced with irony and hidden messages, ending with the couple too busy staring into each other's eyes in love as they walk round a street corner into...well we never find out on record because the album ends then but in retrospect it sounds awfully as if John and Yoko know they're walking into tragedy without knowing it (Lennon reportedly spoke often during the sessions that he would die soon and apparently feared entering his 40s from his childhood days - was he told this by the 'fortune teller' - see the 'Haunted Liverpool' series - who told him and his three friends in 1956 at Allerton Park 'whoever catches this ball will have unimaginable riches and influence and success - but it will come at a price'; only Lennon was brave enough to catch the ball? Douglas has since said many times in interviews that his last conversation with Lennon - actually taped in the studio - was about his fear of death, but that he ordered the tape be taken out and burnt when he learnt of the tragedy).
Overall, though, what's perhaps odd about 'Double Fantasy' is that it doesn't sound like the sort of album release by someone fearing death or the last will and testament by someone who knows he's pushing his luck. Had any other Lennon come last - the honest confessional of 'Plastic Ono Band', the half-confessional of 'Imagine', the Nixon-baiting of 'Sometime In New York City', the sadness and guilt of 'Mind Games' or the confusion of 'Walls and Bridges' - it would have made retrospective 'sense'. Lennon spends most of those albums looking over his shoulder, worried about how much time he has - the tragedy is that only Yoko has that sense of impending doom across 'Double Fantasy' - John has never sounded more contented, more at peace or more willing to demonstrate that he's in life for the long run, taking care of himself and his family. No wonder, then, that the contented and peaceful 'Double Fantasy' became such a magnet for fans after Lennon's death, representing as it does the happier side of his art and fuelling people's anger that Lennon got taken away right when he was needed by his young family the most. The tragic circumstances of Lennon's death would have transformed any album into a million seller, even 'New York City' or 'Two Virgins' - 'Double Fantasy' was destined to become Lennon's biggest seller before he'd even died. But in truth it's a rotten record by his standards, weedy and calculating and often boring - the three charges you could never lay at Lennon's door at any other period - and it's not the way I want to remember him. Had Lennon lived there'd hopefully be so many fantastic albums in his catalogue (starting with the half-finished 'Milk and Honey') that this album would have been forgotten and over-shadowed, written off as Lennon struggling to get back in the groove. Instead my heart sinks every time I hear 'Watching The Wheels' or 'Woman' or 'Startin' Over' played on the radio and billed as 'classic Lennon'. This isn't classic Lennon in any way shape or form and the worst possible point for us to say goodbye, before Lennon had a chance to prove to us just how creative and how relevant he still was to his era and how much he still had to offer the world. Instead Lennon became a martyr in death, the last thing he'd ever have wanted, and the fact that so many of his lesser songs are now hailed as classics would have angered him as much as fans like me. For once we'll end by quoting another reviewer that sums up better than I can the main problem with this record and even more unusually it's the NME (never usually that on the ball for AAA artists): 'It all sounds like the product of a great life - but unfortunately it all makes for a lousy record'.