Plenty of preconceptions exist about Yoko Ono, each on a sliding scale of fairness. There’s the feeling that she’s not primarily a musician (not really true), that her predominant performance style involves screaming (arguable) and that, of course, she broke up The Beatles (definitely false – that was Paul). Perhaps the most pernicious one over the years, though, has been the idea that Ono is a chancer who rode on the coat-tails of John Lennon, and that her recording career would be nothing without him – and it’s this misapprehension that Ocean Child, a compilation of Yoko Ono songs reinterpreted by a motley gathering of modern-day indie glitterati, seeks to redress.
And broadly, it succeeds: although performance and genre styles shift throughout, the throughline of these 14 tracks is one of engaging songwriting, reflective and carefully interior lyricism, and a nagging sense of economical, nursery rhyme melody that would be beyond a mere Beatle-groupie who only knew how to yell. Highlights abound all over: Sharon van Etten’s ‘Toyboat’ is full of wistful sway, David Byrne’s ‘Who Has Seen The Wind’ creeps with appropriate aloofness and Deerhoof’s ‘No No No’ finds Satomi Matsuzaki – the only Japanese woman to appear here, disappointingly – channelling Ono’s angular eccentricities with defiant glee. Elsewhere, radical reinventions prevent this being pure hagiography: Thao’s ‘Yellow Girl’ is entirely stripped of the jaunt and jazz of the original, and We Are KING’s neo-R&B reimagining of ‘Don’t Be Scared’, originally rendered in cringey cod-reggae, becomes a far silkier and suitably soothing song. Only Yo La Tengo attempt anything from outside Ono’s ’70s and ’80s heyday, with a faithful take on 2013’s ‘There’s No Goodbye Between Us’, but it might also be the collection’s best moment: hearing a 60-year-old Georgia Hubley sing a (then) 80-year-old woman’s words of tired but undying love is a gentle revelation.
Perhaps what’s most charming about Ocean Child, though, is that although knowing the provenance of these songs makes them more satisfying, it is not a prerequisite to their enjoyment – and that standalone quality, free of any Lennonism, for or against, might be the best possible tribute to Ono’s singular songcraft.
Please support Loud And Quiet if you can
If you’re a fan of what we do, please consider subscribing to L&Q to help fund our support of new musicians and independent labels
You can make a big difference for a few pounds per month, and in return we’ll send you our magazines, exclusive flexi discs, and other subscriber bonus bits and pieces
Try for a month and cancel anytime