Mojo (Publisher) - p.964 stars out of 5
-- "LAND OF HELL is alive with 21st century energy. As ever, it's dottily playful, deadly serious, and infused with nods to numerous fellow travelers..."
Audio Mixer: Michael H. Brauer.
Recording information: Sear Sound.
Photographer: Sean Lennon.
The Plastic Ono Band's 2009 return Between My Head and the Sky was cause for celebration for Yoko Ono fans, so it's heartening that Take Me to the Land of Hell -- which was released the same year as Ono's 80th birthday -- picks up pretty much where that album left off. Once again working with her son Sean Lennon and a crack team of collaborators including Yuka Honda, Nels Cline, and Cornelius' Keigo Oyamada, Ono sings about the things that matter -- peace, war, New York, dancing -- over sounds that are nearly as diverse as Between My Head and the Sky. Ono immediately throws listeners into the deep end with a pair of songs so potent, they could have come from the band's heyday: "Moonbeams" is mystical and fierce, with sheets of raw guitars supporting her as she intones "My spirit appears like the sun at dawn" and vocalizes with her one-of-a-kind intensity. Meanwhile, the funky takedown of the American dream "Cheshire Cat Cry" sounds even more like the Plastic Ono Band's early-'70s work, but its rallying cry "Stop the violence/Stop all wars" -- as well as the way Ono implores "who needs it?!" at the end of the song -- is urgent and timeless. Take Me to the Land of Hell spends equal time with the playful electronic direction Ono pursued in the 2000s, and "Bad Dancer" and "Tabetai," a collaboration with tUnE-yArDs' Merrill Nisker, are standouts. However, Take Me to the Land of Hell often feels sadder and more reflective than Between My Head and the Sky. Some of its finest moments are as harrowing as they are beautiful: a ghostly loneliness pervades the title track, and on "Little Boy Blue Your Daddy's Gone," Ono's despairing attempts at comfort become increasingly wrenching until her wails ring out after the music ends. Even some of the more lighthearted songs here have a remarkable poignancy, whether it's the bittersweet love song to Ono's adopted city "N.Y. Noodle Town" or the charming breakup song "Leaving Tim," where she sings, "Let's throw that past in the biggest trash can/Our life spent, a lifetime." By the time "Shine, Shine"'s white-hot dance-rock brings the album to a triumphant close, Take Me to the Land of Hell delivers performances with the kind of weight -- and lightness -- that can only come from an artist entering her ninth decade. ~ Heather Phares