Yoko Ono’s solo career has mapped a sometimes bitter, sometimes endearing, struggle to realize avant-garde ambitions within a pop context. With Starpeace, Yoko’s fourth album since John Lennon’s death, this struggle has achieved a successful and satisfying end.
Coproducer Bill Laswell’s unerring sensitivity to Yoko’s idiosyncratic vision is one important reason why Starpeace seamlessly fuses artistic daring and accessibility. Laswell’s rainbow coalition of all-star players — including violinist L. Shankar, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, guitarist Eddie Martinez, the Sly and Robbie riddim section and drummer Tony Williams — embellishes the LP’s twelve tunes with such skill, originality and intelligence that every aural detail finds a comfortable place within the ensemble scheme. The polyglot arrangements, flashing a hip disregard for genre distinctions (and littered with nearly subliminal Beatles references), sound contemporary while drawing on every significant pop-music style of the past two decades. A soaring violin passage and an electric-sitar solo grace the reggae lilt of “I Love All of Me,” for example, while a battery of dance-groove electronic effects envelopes the reminiscences of “In Cape Clear.”
Equally important, the album’s instrumental textures exploit the breathy rhythmic energy and childlike lyricism of Yoko’s vocals, which are often shadowed by soulful background singers Yolanda Lee Lewis and Bernard Fowler. As a result, the heart cries of “Hell in Paradise” and “Remember Raven,” the sense of wonder of “Sky People,” the anthemic surge of “Children Power” and the expansiveness of the title track all register their widely varied emotional meanings with appropriate force.
Ideologically, Yoko remains a Utopian. Here, as elsewhere, her songs dramatize the battle of ideals for survival against the atrocities of our time. Still, it remains to be seen if commercial radio and the general public will give Starpeace a chance. But, whether they do or not, there can be no denying that this fifty-two-year-old pop star now fully deserves to be reckoned with on her own demanding terms.