This offers a fairly good idea of Ono’s standing as a musician. At best, she’s relegated to the sidelines in the supporting role of John Lennon’s wife. At worst, she’s still perceived as the woman who broke up The Beatles, even after recent Get Back documentary exhaustively (and exhaustingly) proved that in fact The Beatles themselves broke up The Beatles. Some might recognize Ono as the vocalist who lets out bloodcurdling screams atop a bluesy plod by Lennon and pals in footage from 1968 Rolling Stones film Rock and Roll Circus.
Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie set out to realign such reductive caricatures. The result is Ocean Child, an all-star tribute to Ono’s musical contributions beyond her uncompromisingly out-there avant-garde abstractions. While variable (as is inevitable with such projects) and skipping Ono’s one solo near-hit (1981 disco-hued gem “Walking On Thin Ice”, already covered elsewhere by Elvis Costello), the results offer an interesting, frequently compelling glimpse into Yoko Ono’s unconventional (the songs here often proceed with the wonky logic of a dream rather than adhering to linear verse/chorus conventions) yet accessible work as a songwriter.
Ocean Child is at its best when the contributors twist the source material to their own unique shapes. Yo La Tengo (also on top form with guest vocalist David Byrne on the woozy underwater doo-wop harmonies of “Who Has Seen The Wind?”, which teases out the song’s full melodic splendour) do their slow-burn, twilit turn on “There Is No Goodbye Between Us” to startlingly moving effect. The Flaming Lips (continuing recently rediscovered winning streak with a psychedelicized, maximalist take on “Mrs. Lennon” that dips wide-eyed wonder into unfathomable sadness) and Deerhoof (twisting the indignant “No, No, No” into a contorted sugar rush) honour Ono’s irreverent, playful side while acknowledging the heaviness of their chosen songs. Best of all, Sudan Archives turns “Dogtown” into an irresistible slice of hypnotic minimalism that resembles one of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s stream-of-consciousness monologues welded into an instantly infectious, exquisite funk-pop experimentation.
Even when the renditions don’t hit these heights, Ocean Child is pretty much guaranteed to do the most important job of a tribute album: send the curious listener to explore Ono’s originals.