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.
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