Shaved Fish is a collection of singles, some of them hits, released during John Lennon’s post-Beatles career (1969-present). Ordinarily, such Christmas gift ideas aren’t worth writing about but, as with almost everything else Lennon has done, Shaved Fish is different. There is nothing spectacularly unfound about the music here, although finally having an LP with “Instant Karma!” — Lennon’s best solo track and as full a statement of the rock philosophy as we are likely to get from anyone — is a significant event in my house. One is first drawn to the package, a typically mad collage of literal interpretations of the 11 tracks here — “Instant Karma!” is represented by a jar, as though it were a name-brand pharmaceutical — and to the lyric sheet, which offers the most convincing evidence yet of Lennon’s verbal felicity.
More than that, however, the feeling of this record is so diffuse that it probably does present an accurate overview of Lennon’s confused career since leaving the Beatles. The best tracks are obsessed, driven by a special idea about the usefulness of rock & roll, as on “Instant Karma!,” “Cold Turkey,” “Imagine” and even “Mother.” Although “Give Peace a Chance” is the best example extant of Lennon’s talent for random lyric writing, neither it, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” nor “Power to the People” has held up. Unlike Dylan’s best topical songs (“George Jackson,” say), or even the Beatles’ “Revolution,” Lennon’s polemics were entirely too ad hoc to last beyond the era in which they were made. Nevertheless, there is a cohesion of style present in these which dwindles in the later parts of the record: “Mind Games,” “Whatever Gets You thru the Night” and “#9 Dream” are all without the purpose of his best work. This is convincing evidence, then, not only of John Lennon’s genius but of his continuing career difficulty. Hopefully, as the cover drawing for “Power to the People” suggests, the green card he’ll be receiving from Immigration will resolve that crisis happily.