Album Review: Take Me to the Land of Hell by Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band
Great, Based on 7 Critics
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Still out-punking everyone at 80, Ono’s provocatively titled new album emphatically reminds us that, “While your heart is dancing/Your mind is bouncing.” And to be sure, the fearsome, intellectual vitality of her funk-metal-electro freak-outs would surely put any teenager to shame. On “Cheshire Cat Cry,” she snarls that “we the expendable people of the United States/Hold these dreams to be self-destructive.” Take that, System! Seriously, we can’t wait for her ferocity at 90. .
The Plastic Ono Band's 2009 return Between My Head and the Sky was cause for celebration for Yoko Ono fans, so it's heartening that Take Me to the Land of Hell -- which was released the same year as Ono's 80th birthday -- picks up pretty much where that album left off. Once again working with her son Sean Lennon and a crack team of collaborators including Yuka Honda, Nels Cline, and Cornelius' Keigo Oyamada, Ono sings about the things that matter -- peace, war, New York, dancing -- over sounds that are nearly as diverse as Between My Head and the Sky. Ono immediately throws listeners into the deep end with a pair of songs so potent, they could have come from the band's heyday: "Moonbeams" is mystical and fierce, with sheets of raw guitars supporting her as she intones "My spirit appears like the sun at dawn" and vocalizes with her one-of-a-kind intensity.
With Take Me To The Land Of Hell, Yoko Ono has released her best effort since 2009’s Between My Head And The Sky, and this time around she’s done it with a star-studded cast. After collaborating last year with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth on Yokokimthurston, 2013’s Meltdown Festival curator has brought about a laundry list of collaborators who include tUnE-yArDs, ?uestlove of The Roots, Nels Cline (of Wilco as of 2004), Lenny Kravitz, Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt and Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock and Mike D. Oh, and it was produced by her and John Lennon’s son Sean Lennon (now part of Plastic Ono Band).
When an album sounds as though it could have been recorded any time in the past 50 years, that's usually because it's made by men with guitars aping the "classic songwriting" of mid-period Beatles. In Yoko Ono's case, it means something quite different. Take Me to the Land of Hell bustles from plangent piano ballads to jittery funk, impassioned spoken word to cosmic trance, Broadway glitter to powerpop bounce, moving across time and, in the whirl of a dancing universe pictured in Moonbeams, space with absolute assurance.
Like it or not, 2009’s Between My Head and the Sky was not a fluke for the latest incarnation of the Plastic Ono Band. Yoko Ono, together with her son Sean Lennon and bandmates Yuka Honda, Keigo “Cornelius” Oyamada, Hirotaka “Shimmy” Shimizu and Yuko Araki are going full speed ahead with their multi-colored follow-up Take Me to the Land of Hell. But nailing down a description of the sound is about as tough as partitioning credit.
Yoko Ono turned 80 this year, but on Take Me to the Land of Hell she barely sounds out of her 20s. This is another album billed to the Plastic Ono Band following the revival of that name with 2009's excellent Between My Head and the Sky, although the lineup remains thrillingly fluid. We get a return of sorts of Beastie Boys Mike D and Ad-Rock, plus supplementary work from tUnE-yArDs, Nels Cline, and ?uestlove among others.
Guesting on a Yoko Ono LP has become like getting cast in a Woody Allen film: an artistic validation and New York City-branded right of passage. It’s also clearly a hoot: see "Bad Dancer," a giddy club anthem for the proudly graceless with surviving Beastie Boys Mike D and Ad-Rock (who also appear alongside Questlove and others in the hilarious video). There’s resonant avant-pop (see "Tabetai," with beats from tUnE-yArDs' Merrill Garbus) and agit-prop, too.