Various artists: Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono review – tribute to brilliance of rock icon’s music

(Canvasback Music/Atlantic Records)
Death Cab for Cutie, David Byrne and the Flaming Lips are among artists reworking Ono’s strange sound and outsider songs into something more palatable

Yoko Ono is one of the biggest names in rock history – and yet her music is frequently overlooked, if not actively ignored. Years of frustration at this state of affairs motivated Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard to helm this tribute album, intended to demonstrate the breadth, charm and brilliance of her output. Gibbard is not the first person to attempt to rescue Ono’s reputation, but the crack team he has assembled to cover her songs – David Byrne, the Flaming Lips, Sharon Van Etten, US Girls, Sudan Archives, Japanese Breakfast – will appeal to listeners previously unaware of the source material.

Various artists: Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono album cover
Various artists: Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono album cover Photograph: Music PR handout

In the same vein, many of the covers make Ono’s strongly idiosyncratic, almost outsider songs more palatable. Sometimes this merely entails exposing the crowd-pleasing loveliness lingering just below the surface, as on Jay Som’s sublime dream-pop rework of Growing Pain. Others iron out some of the essential weirdness: Byrne and Yo La Tengo’s sonorous, barbershop-style version of Who Has Seen the Wind is far less jarring than the hauntingly childlike vocals and Elizabethan-style instrumental of the original. It is only the Flaming Lips that manage to make Ono odder, adding extra trippiness to Mrs Lennon.

Japanese Breakfast: Nobody Sees Me Like You Do – video

Whether Ocean Child’s tendency to replace the startling strangeness of Ono’s originals with something easier on the ear is doing her a disservice is debatable: in 2016, she said she thought her “music was beautiful all along”. This album proves there is appeal to her songwriting that goes far beyond her own inimitable presence – but it’s hard not to miss that presence. In fact, it’s impossible not to repeatedly turn Ocean Child off, and instead seek out the originality and uniqueness of the genuine article. Presumably, it’s what Gibbard would want.


Rachel Aroesti

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Imaginational Anthem Vol XI: Chrome Universal review | Contemporary album of the month
A nine-track survey compiled by Nashville-based player Luke Schneider shows the many faces of this drowsy, languid instrument

John Lewis

22, Jul, 2022 @7:30 AM

Article image
Low: Hey What review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
The veteran group continue the scorched digital manipulations of 2018 masterpiece Double Negative, but their vocals are left pristine and beautiful

Alexis Petridis

09, Sep, 2021 @10:30 AM

Article image
The 50 best albums of 2019: the full list
Our pick of the year’s finest albums brings American dreaming, teenage dynamism, heartbreak, barbed rap, impetuous indie and beautiful soundscapes

20, Dec, 2019 @9:41 AM

Article image
Devin Hoff: Voices from the Empty Moor review – stellar lineup for the twists of Anne Briggs
The experimentally minded bassist and star guests including Sharon Van Etten and Julia Holter create these unusual reimaginings, though the vocals don’t always suit Briggs’s songs

Jude Rogers

26, Nov, 2021 @8:30 AM

Article image
Black Midi: Hellfire review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
From cocktail-lounge piano to thrashing drums, the British prog band make musical handbrake turns that are thrilling but hard to love

Alexis Petridis

14, Jul, 2022 @11:00 AM

Article image
Yoko Ono: Warzone review – name another 85-year-old making music this combative
Ono rages through an album that is part rehabilitation of 1985’s Starpeace, part call to arms – and wholly unique

Alexis Petridis

18, Oct, 2018 @11:00 AM

Article image
Debit: The Long Count review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
Mexican-American producer Delia Beatriz draws on the flutes of the Mayan courts to create a startlingly original sound

Ammar Kalia

28, Jan, 2022 @9:30 AM

Article image
Sonic Youth’s greatest songs – ranked!
As they release two live albums to benefit abortion support groups, we rate the best of the New York band who collided alt-rock with the avant garde in a thrilling noise

Alexis Petridis

11, Nov, 2021 @1:07 PM

Article image
Moor Mother: Jazz Codes review – a stunning continuum of Black music
What started life as a poetry book has evolved into an ambitious anthropological project spanning jazz, R&B, hip-hop and more

Tayyab Amin

01, Jul, 2022 @6:30 AM

Article image
‘An old strain of English magic had returned’: stars on why they fell in love with Kate Bush
As a new generation continues to discover her via Running Up That Hill, musicians including Sharon Van Etten and Brian Molko reveal how the singer changed their lives

As told to Rachel Aroesti

01, Jul, 2022 @7:00 AM