Yoko Ono’s latest album, “Yes, I’m A Witch,” is exactly as weird as one would expect it to be — no more, no less. That’s good news for listeners who might have worried that 73-year-old Ono would suddenly go off the deep end after nearly 40 years of making music. But then again, it seems unlikely that the art of the woman who recorded “Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins” with John Lennon in 1968 could get any more bizarre.
Unlike her earlier albums, however, “Yes, I’m A Witch” is the product not just of Ono’s weirdness, but that of 16 other artists as well. In fact, the only thing that belongs distinctly to Ono is her singing — tracks of which have been yanked off of previous records and remixed with arrangements composed by contemporary musical acts. As producer, Ono supervises the whole affair from the control room. Her words and voice constitute the indubitable heart and soul of the songs, but they’re a heart and soul that have been appropriated and then swaddled in new and unrecognizable flesh.
At a time when a multitude of older artists is searching for ways to update and repackage their musical modi operandi — see Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and, of course, Bob Dylan — Ono’s efforts are unique in their transparency and self-consciousness. “Yes, I’m A Witch” is nothing if not a post-modern inquiry into the very process of music-making and the nature of artistic originality. Listening to Ono’s voice as she sings the lyrics to “Everyman Everywoman” on top of a punk-electronica dance beat provided by The Blow Up, the listener indeed might wonder whether Ono’s name really deserves to be affixed to the album cover. For sure, this is art — but exactly whose art is more difficult to determine.
The 17 tracks on “Yes, I’m A Witch,” each of them generated by a different artist with a different vision, aren’t really united by any common aesthetic — but remarkably, they seem to hang together simply by virtue of their own eclecticism. Certain songs exhibit more musicality than others — contrast the carefully-layered tones of “Nobody Sees Me Like You Do” (featuring The Apples In Stereo) with the alienating techno-slither of “Kiss Kiss Kiss” (featuring Peaches) — but discovering just how many ways Ono’s vocals can be re-engineered is all part of the fun.
Of course, anyone searching for something like a concrete meaning on this album is bound to come away deeply frustrated, but that fact shouldn’t interfere with what is at least an interesting and even, at times, enjoyable listening experience.
Perhaps Ono’s lyrics on “Revelations” — accompanied by a sparse, hauntingly beautiful piano score, courtesy of Cat Power — offer the soundest advice for unraveling this diverse, labyrinthine project: “Transform the energy into versatility and it will bring you prosperity.” Ono’s album certainly has energy, and it has versatility, too. It might not even be a stretch to say that “Yes, I’m A Witch” prospers in the wild and tantalizing fashion that only an Ono album can deliver.