Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., Dec. 17, 2010
John LennonSignature Box (Capitol)
Of the Beatles, John Lennon appeared the most at-odds with his life. That had everything to do with being one of the fabled Fab Four, but the Liverpudlians' de facto leader shouldered the fame with a chip, playing out his frustrations in a decade's worth of music after the Beatles and before his death. He had two audiences: the one that followed him and the one that kept a reluctant distance thanks to Yoko Ono. Known as the Signature Box, "The Ballad of John and Yoko" could just as easily apply. Accounting for 11 CDs are Lennon's official solo LPs, remastered – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970), Imagine ('71), Mind Games ('73), Walls and Bridges ('74), and Rock 'n' Roll ('75) – as well as John and Yoko's 2-CD Some Time in New York City ('72), Double Fantasy (1980), and the posthumous Milk and Honey ('84), plus two CDs of home demos, a 65-page book, commemorative print, and three essays by his family. The subjects could be brilliant and brutal ("Working Class Hero," "How Do You Sleep?"), mawkish and maudlin ("Love"), strident and strained ("Woman Is the Nigger of the World"), or exuberant and energetic ("Whatever Gets You Thru the Night"), but melodically, he didn't stray far from piano ballads and rock tunes. Yoko Ono's presence is no less felt – she's the more musically progressive – and a short arc connects her 1972 "We're All Water" with the B-52s seven years later, much as "Don't Be Scared" from Milk and Honey sounds like Tom Tom Club. The bonus discs offer alternate takes but should have included the DVD from the Power to the People: The Hits collection. Its videos are dated and limited, but deeply compelling. Lennon's many faces blended with his songs are visually reassuring, like his still-boyish smile during the sweetly defiant and romantic "#9 Dream." Lennon's mantra says it all: "I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me."