Wednesday, October 22, 2008

John Lennon 5: Mind Games

After the political nonsense of the previous year, Mind Games was a step back to melodies and tunefulness, but once you paid attention it seemed as if John was also running out of steam. There are great tunes and catchy numbers on this album, but it just seems so ordinary, which is one of the last adjectives one would use to describe John Lennon.
The title track still has a soaring quality that makes it a great track to this day. (That’s not an orchestra, it’s just a bunch of guys! But they sound so big…) Had he ever toured again, this would have been a showstopper. “Tight A$” is boogie with nothing else to hold it up, which unfortunately doesn’t pass for art. This would not be the only example of water-treading on this album. “Aisumasen (I’m Sorry)” has some interesting chord changes and a cool arrangement, but lines like “all that I know is just what you tell me” come off more pathetic than romantic. It’s heartfelt, but much too Yoko-centric for mass enjoyment. “One Day (At A Time)” is a good example of why John shouldn’t sing falsetto for an entire song; perhaps he was going for a Stylistics feel on this? Whatever the motivation, it grates. “Bring On The Lucie (Freda Peeple)” is a lot of fun, before you realize how maddeningly repetitive it is. And it seems pointless to spend more than three seconds on the side closer. (That’s an in-joke.)
Side two starts off with as close as a potboiler as we’ll get, the funky “Intuition”, showing John was listening to the radio from time to time. This would have been another good choice for a single, or even one for Ringo to cover. “Out The Blue” is the best on the album next to “Mind Games”, mostly because of the clever chord changes, but also because of the bare honesty in the lyrics and delivery. “Only People” is harmless if lightweight; a whole lotta so what with too much “right on, brother”. It’s much improved by the John Denverisms of “I Know” (that’s not meant as a bad thing), yet by this point it’s become tiresome to hear John apologize to Yoko continuously. This tune has some fantastic harmonies right out of Rubber Soul. He may have lost the passion, but his craftsmanship is strongly in evidence on this underrated song. While the title track was an extension of the unfinished “Make Love Not War”, “You Are Here” takes another old slogan and adds an “East is East” sentiment to it, but it just doesn’t lift itself up at all. “Meat City” is a rocking way to blow out the album, which, now that you can look back on it, doesn’t say much, does it?
Mind Games is not a bad album; it just isn’t great. Many of these songs seem slight because they are merely pleasant, when his earlier work, while still incredibly personal, was more moving. Luckily his voice is as good as ever, and even the slimmest songs benefit from it. This was the best he could come up with at the time; meanwhile Yoko was becoming incredibly prolific and getting tired of him. John was left to create fourth-quarter product and scamper off to the West Coast. (The 2002 reissue brings out sonic surprises in the mix, a lot more exciting than the demos tacked at the end. At least there were a few drawings in the booklet we hadn’t seen before.) He would eventually regain some inspiration after the chaos in LA with Phil Spector, and write from his gut for his next full-length LP.

John Lennon Mind Games (1973)—3
2002 CD reissue: same as 1973, plus 3 extra tracks

1 comment:

  1. So true about the lyrics on this album - yoko's giant face on the cover says it all. I Know (I Know) and Out of the Blue are fantastic songs though.