Saturday, March 31, 2012

The double failure of "Double Fantasy"

A few weeks back, I snark-tweeted this: "The 'Double Fantasy' experience: listen, skip, listen, skip, listen, skip...." It drew more responses than any of my previous tweets, and all of them were positive. One might say it touched a chord. For those unfamiliar with Double Fantasy - the last album John Lennon released while he was alive - it's a chronicle of family life at the Dakota that's divided up between songs by John and songs by Yoko. I bet you can guess which half most people prefer.

Yet my tweet doesn't tell the whole story. The more uncomfortable truth about Double Fantasy is that, while John's half is certainly far better than Yoko's, it doesn't stand tall on its own. Coming after a five-year period of retirement that found John immersed in fatherhood, Double Fantasy shows the ex-Beatle like we'd rarely encountered him before: content, taking it easy, and basking in snug domesticity (see "Cleanup Time" and "Watching the Wheels"). We can be thankful that he obtained peace at the end of his life - it's the silver lining of the album's legacy - even while acknowledging that, for the purposes of songwriting, contentment doesn't suit John Lennon. With nothing to push back against - no defiance to express, no stinging self-criticism to let loose - John doesn't sound like himself. He sounds out of place, and he sounds bored. And it translates into an album of tuneful but bloodless, bland dad-rock. Because of the broader context of marital happiness, "I'm Losing You" has no teeth; "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" is more cute than genuinely affecting; and "Dear Yoko" feels redundant, with the similarly-themed (and much superior) "Woman" just two spots in front of it. Essentially, it's all downhill after the opener, "(Just Like) Starting Over," which is a joyous little bundle of jittery, throwback rock.

I feel bad voicing these negative opinions. For reasons that should be obvious, I want to like Double Fantasy. But one shouldn't let their view of the album be influenced by the circumstances under which it was made or by the tragic event that came on the heels of its release. This is clearly what happened with Rolling Stone (read: Jann Wenner), which has been sentimentalizing and defending Double Fantasy so unconvincingly for years. More subtly, one shouldn't mistake the relief they experience when getting passed Yoko's contributions (which range from silly to execrable) for actually hearing John in top form. Or even good form.

I'll close on a positive note: 2010's Double Fantasy Stripped Down (think Let It Be... Naked) is an improvement on the over-produced original.

1 comment:

Matt Blick said...

Excellent post - you're spot on about reading too much into the album from it being Lennon's last. I came to the same conclusion myself