Disappointing Albums, Music 51 Disappointing Albums: ‘Walls and Bridges’ by John Lennon By Tony Thompson | May 1, 2020 | Each week TONY THOMPSON discusses a ‘disappointing album’: why it’s disappointing, what that means in the context of the band or musician’s career, and what that says about changing critical tastes. “One thing must be made clear,” he says, “this is not a series about terrible albums. They might be disappointing, but they are records that you need to hear.” * While John Lennon’s whole solo career is pretty disappointing, there are certainly highlights. The Plastic Ono Band album is remarkable. The production might be terrible but the quality of the lyrics and the rawness of emotion makes it a thrilling document no matter how many times you hear it. Imagine certainly has its moments but, aside from the title track, it never gets better than ‘really good’. Mind Games has another winning title track surrounded by a lot of filler. I thought of including that record but I think it’s more dull than disappointing. I couldn’t face listening to Sometime in New York City again and I think that Rock and Roll is a wonderful record. Double Fantasy has Yoko songs so, I’m sorry, but no. That leaves Walls and Bridges, an album that fits our brief perfectly. In the summer of 1974 Bobby Keys, saxophonist and scallywag, received a phone call from May Pang. He was to come to New York but he was to leave LA behind. This might have sounded cryptic had Bobby not been a sometime participant in John Lennon’s 18 month ‘lost weekend’ in California. The former Beatle had separated from Yoko, taken up with May Pang (on Ono’s instructions, bizarrely) and partied his scouser butt off with Harry Nilsson, Ringo, Keith Moon, Alice Cooper, Mickey Dolenz, Anne Murray, and his old buddy Paul McCartney. If there was a lost weekend going in the 1970s, Bobby Keys was there, losing it with the best of them. But now he was on his way to NYC to play on a new John Lennon album under strict instructions to leave the party at the Chateau Marmont and to remember to pack the tenor. Nobody produced this album. It drags on without direction and the sound is muddy. Bobby’s ever-so-slightly off key high note kicks off John Lennon’s first number one solo single, Whatever Gets You Through The Night. It’s a punchy track that owes something to Bowie, something to Elton John who sings and plays on it, and, ahem, something to Wings. It’s not The Wasteland lyrically but you can dance to it, and John sounds like he’s having fun for once. It follows a much lesser known song called Going Down on Love to open the record. Going Down, like so much of Lennon’s solo output seems more like the basis of good song. The lyrics are bit repetitive, a bit awkward, and the whole thing doesn’t really go anywhere. I’m not the first person to wonder if John needed a Paul to tell him to keep working on it. Paul, for his part, certainly could have used a John to tell him to leave things be once in awhile! Old Dirt Road, a co write with Harry Nilsson, is an agreeable if bland ballad. The production sinks the vocals, making it hard to follow the story. The next song is What You Got, a funky shouter that works pretty well. He sounds a lot like McCartney straining his way through Monkberry Moon Delight here, but he probably wouldn’t have appreciated the comparison. We all know what John Lennon thought of the Ram album! In any case, Klaus Voorman and Jim Keltner lay down a serious groove for one of the highlights of the record. Bless You starts off eerily like Band on the Run before drifting into a sort of Lorca-era Tim Buckley dreamscape. Again, it’s okay but seems to be missing some ingredient of the Lennon magic. Side Two opens with the second single #9 Dream, a strange song with a George Harrison-like bridge and a solid melody that points both to back to some of his more psychedelic moments with The Beatles and forward to the dream pop of Double Fantasy. Surprise Surprise, another one that needed a few more minutes in the oven, comes next. They all sound like Strawberry Fields compared to Beef Jerky, a totally unnecessary instrumental. Why is it disappointing? Nobody produced this album. It drags on without direction and the sound is muddy. He has obviously been working on these songs but they all sound like first drafts of the sort of thing Lennon was certainly capable of writing. It lacks vision and the sense of cohesiveness that would have made for a far better release. Sadly, this was pretty much it for a real John Lennon record. In his lifetime, only Rock and Roll and Double Fantasy remained. I find it a frustrating record. He had obviously made up his mind to ‘come back’ and establish himself again in popular music. He should have been one of the great acts of the 1970s, instead of someone who always sounded as though they were bored or couldn’t be bothered. Why Should You Hear It? It’s a John Lennon album and if you are willing to persist with it, it will reveal its charms. A song called Steel and Glass, buried deep on the second side, is reminiscent of How Do You Sleep?. Apparently this time Allen Klein, the man who really did break up The Beatles, is the target instead of Paul. It’s not a pleasant song but it is a glimpse of John sounding like John should. Every time I put on this record, it jumps out at me in all its nasty glory. Nobody Loves You was largely derided by the critics when this record was released but it’s one of his great solo moments. This album appeared in the same year as George Harrison’s messy Dark Horse. Both albums sound tired but don’t dismiss them. If you are a fan, they are part of the story and there is gold in them hills. For the rest of this series, click here. Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Tony Thompson Tony Thompson lives in Melbourne and is the author of Summer of Monsters, a novel about the early life of Mary Shelley.