From the ominous church knell heralding the lyrical bereavement therapy of Mother, to the crushed lullaby to no one My Mummy’s Dead, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970) – undoubtedly John Lennon's most raw and revealing solo album, arguably his best – was always a harrowing, uncompromising listen.
Still processing The Beatles’ split, and psychologically taken apart but not yet reconstructed, by primal therapy, John Lennon delivered a sonic exorcism, tackling his childhood abandonment by both parents, a lifetime of grief and confusion, and the torments of Beatlehood in a 40-minute collision of corroded blues desperation (Well Well Well, I Found Out), blank cynicism (Working Class Hero), scarred gospel soul (Isolation, Mother, God) and serene existential crises (Look At Me).
Band members – Ringo included – would claim that Lennon was in an unstable state during recording, laughing one second, scream-crying the next. It’s this behind-the-scenes gristle that fans will be scouring this monster six-CD/ two-Blu-ray dissection for.
But far from being a car crash with sleeve-notes, the conventional box-set extras – each replaying the album from a different angle, with Give Peace A Chance, Cold Turkey and Ziggy blueprint Instant Karma! tacked on – instead display a mercurial talent deconstructing his art to break brave new ground.
The demo disc hints at the acid-psych classic that early takes of Mother and Love might have spawned, while Well Well Well and Cold Turkey resemble grainy recordings of a 1930s Mississippi bluesman mid-meltdown.
God begins life as a brilliantly throwaway 50s Americana strumble, a piano-led Isolation sounds like a dry run for Imagine, and Give Peace A Chance is a babbling cod-country mess in which Lennon claims everybody’s talking about constipation, which they definitely weren’t.
From this rootsy ore, through numerous unpolished studio mixes and out-takes, Lennon crafts an influentially savage record caged within bristling and beatific melodic frameworks.
Remember grows from a subdued shudder into a compulsive, locomotive beast. Cold Turkey becomes starker, tenser and proto-punkier, shaken at every step by Lennon’s climactic primal howls. Hold On loses its organic sheen to become an oceanic self-hug. Love gains its tear-jerking piano refrains, and Give Peace A Chance loses its less stirring chants (‘wake up at the back there!’) and a merciful amount of Yoko.