There is very little difference between breakup bravado and a midlife crisis. Both make people do drastic things, buy pink Corvettes, show off in front of potential suitors and, sometimes, call into question old relationships. The swagger that seemed to infiltrate John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges may well have been because of his separation from Yoko Ono during that 1973-1974 corridor. Adopting the cheeky moniker “Winston O’Boogie” (derived from his middle name, Winston,) the overall funkiness of the album has a “hey, ladies” attitude about it, certainly more attractive than the drunken haze of Pussy Cats, the album he made with Harry Nilsson during what is now referred to as the “lost weekend period.”
Part of the effort to reposition himself on the market was to hook up with Elton John for the track “Whatever Gets You Through The Night.” At this period of time, there was nobody hotter in pop music than John, and seemingly Lennon knew it. The track, while having Lennon singing, seems far and away more Elton’s piece, his piano and voice way up front. Another footnote of the album is the strings-laden “#9 Dream” featuring a voice that whispers, in the pre-chorus “John…” That’s not Yoko, but May Pang, Lennon’s girlfriend at the time (sanctioned by Yoko, believe it or not, as Pang was Ono’s personal secretary). These might be the walls referenced in the album’s title.
The bridges, on the other hand, are the lyrical Beatles nods Lennon drops through the course of the album, the liberal borrowing of Paul McCartney’s fat riff from Band On The Run‘s “Let Me Roll It,” found on “Beef Jerky” of which the very title might be seen as a self-deprecating olive branch, the re-purposing of the venom of “How Do You Sleep?” in “Steel and Glass” which is assumed to be a screed against the Beatles’ final manager, Allen Klein, and a snippet of “Ya Ya,” the Lee Dorsey tune covered here by John and a young Julian Lennon on drums. For all the damage Lennon was doing to himself during this phase, it also seemed he was trying to make amends. The efforts, seemingly, came to no fruition.
As an album, Walls and Bridges may not be seen as important as Imagine. It is not a grand statement, it’s not a shot across the bow or a denial of what had come before. It is an interesting collection of tracks that tantalizingly hints at what might have been, but is best left to the fevered imagination after all these years. As a remaster, just as expected, there wasn’t much that could be considered revelatory here. The original recordings probably were the beneficiary of the most up-to-date technology of the times, the fringe benefit of being a former you-know-what. Everything sounds solid through both headphones and the car stereo, and the packaging, mirroring the Beatles remasters, allows for a nice uniformity amid the collection. I can only assume Paul, George and Ringo will eventually get their repacks too.
More than any other of Lennon’s albums, Walls and Bridges reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend. I mused that Julian’s “Valotte” sounded so much like John Lennon, in the melodic sensibilities, in the way the strings were utilized, and just in the overall tone of melancholy. He replied that he felt, maybe, that song was a gift left behind for Julian from his father. I don’t quite buy into that, but I understand the sentiment. In reality, such an event could only have been feasible had John Lennon stopped fixating on the walls and started moving across the bridges he seemed interested in building. Oh well.
Walls and Bridges is available from Amazon.Com.