It is, of course, impossible to separate the album from what happened immediately after it was released. In late November 1980, John Lennon made his musical return after five years of self-imposed retirement with Double Fantasy, a full-fledged collaboration with his wife, Yoko Ono; on December 8th of that year, he was murdered on his way home from a recording studio. Rather than being his comeback, Double Fantasy became Lennon's sweet, gentle farewell.
But it would have been a rock & roll event regardless. After a self-indulgent, eighteen-month "lost weekend," a separation from Ono and a few disappointing albums, Lennon had retreated into a life of domesticity in late 1975, devoting himself to being a househusband and a father to his son Sean.
In the spring of 1980, Lennon and Sean sailed to Bermuda for a brief vacation; there Lennon became intrigued by New Wave musicians like the Pretenders, Lene Lovich and Madness. And when he heard the B-52's song "Rock Lobster," he was spurred to action. "It sounds just like Ono's music," he told Rolling Stone, "so I said to myself, 'It's time to get out the old axe and wake the wife up!'"
Lennon would write a song, call Ono in New York and sing it to her; she would answer with a new tune she had written. They wrote more than two dozen songs in three weeks, then recorded two albums' worth of material at the Hit Factory, in New York City. He went into the studio, Lennon later said, "not to prove anything but just to enjoy it."
The result was structured as a dialogue — one song by Lennon, then one by Ono — dealing with their trials, their separation and, above all, their love. Despite the tensions brought to the surface in songs like Lennon's "I'm Losing You" and Ono's "I'm Moving On," most of the album deals with the contentment Lennon enjoyed once he had left the music business behind. "No longer riding on the merry-go-round," he sings in the marvelous, contemplative "Watching the Wheels," "I just had to let it go."
Initial critical reaction was not unanimously favorable. Some early reviewers attacked Double Fantasy for its cozy domesticity, and several other prominent pans were written but withdrawn from publication after Lennon's death. But in the end the album proved to be durable not just as — in the words of Rolling Stone contributor Stephen Holden — "an exemplary portrait of a perfect heterosexual union" but as a lovely picture of the happiness two artists had found in each other. "I cannot be a punk in Hamburg and Liverpool anymore," said Lennon three days before his murder. "I'm older now. I see the world through different eyes. I still believe in love, peace and understanding, as Elvis Costello said, and what's so funny about love, peace and understanding?"