Some Time In New York City
REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/18/2012
John Lennon's 1972 album Some Time In New York City represents the low point of the Lennon post-Beatle catalog. It is hard to listen to John Lennon's post-Beatles output without lamenting the unrealized potential that he had. Everyone knew he was capable of turning out great compositions, and he loved to rock, but many of his ‘70s albums come off as complacent, churning out straight forward rock ‘n’ roll simply because he had a dedicated base who would buy the stuff, rather than taking the time to produce quality songs. Despite this, Some Time is actually an album of Lennon really trying – a realization which makes the final product really disappointing as a whole. He tried not to be a Beatle, tried to take his music in a different direction, tried to be political, and tried to be Dylan. The subject matter of the songs is contemporary to the period, so any fans born after say 1960 or 65 would need regular access to Wikipedia while listening to songs like “Attica State," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," “Luck Of The Irish,” "John Sinclair," and "Angela." The album is divided into two parts, with the first ten songs of studio work comprising what was originally the first of two records in the double LP. The second record was a live set that could be considered a different album altogether in sound and content.
The album does have some high points. It starts promising with “Woman Is the N*gger Of The World” in a slow R&B groove with the horns strings and electric guitar weaving together behind John's righteously indignant lyrics. This opening number leaves the listener with no doubt that Lennon has left subtlety behind on this record, but it also sets the tone of the record, though the moralizing grows old quickly. "New York City" is another highlight, and probably the best tune on the album. It is typical Lennon rock and very Chuck Berry-esque. It even has reminiscences of the Beatles tune "I'm Down."
Unfortunately, this album contains far more flops than highlights. The lyrics to Yoko's "Born In A Prison" do not run well together and have too many syllables for their chosen melody. On the refrain you can hear John faintly trying to keep up with her on harmonies. "Luck Of The Irish" is a John and Yoko duet that attempts to sound like an Irish folk song. But words like "genocide" and "bastard" don't sing well within the happy little melody. "We're All Water" is punk in 1972, which makes it an interesting specimen, but Yoko does monkey noises in the breaks. And if you can make it through Yoko's myriad wails, screams, hoots, and moans in the last three minutes of this song without moving on, then you are indeed a special fan. If anything, this song prepares you for the caterwauling contained on the live portion of the album.
"Cold Turkey" is a good song (if a little long, as ‘70s concert jams were), which begins the live portion of the album. In digital format, the switch from the slick Phil Spector studio production portion to this live gritty sound smacks you in the face, whereas on vinyl the change was accompanied by a physical switch from one disc to another, allowing a sense of separation. The subject matter here differs from the rest of the album as well, since it returns to older songs that are more introspective, not the numerous political topics covered in the first set of songs.
"Don't Worry Kyoko" is awful from the very first "note" Yoko exudes and epitomizes the worst of self indulgent artist jams of the ‘70s. Yoko doesn't sing so much as ejaculate noises over a grinding steady guitar riff. At a couple of points, a sax section jumps in suddenly for a very short period as if to attempt to give some musical clarity or even a melody to the song. But then the section will disappear almost as if they have given up. As the listener should.
"Well (Baby Please Don't Go)" is a good oldies song that is brought low by Yoko screaming in the breaks for no reason whatsoever except to be "artistic.” Take her out and this song would likely be the best song on the album.
Lennon used to say that he didn’t write his songs for anyone else but himself, and lamented many times that he was unable to really do the kind of music he wanted to do when he was with The Beatles. On this album, he did what he wanted and it turned out to be a critical and commercial flop. However, Lennon obviously took this outcome to heart, because he never returned to the same sustained political themes again.