Album Review: John Lennon “Walls and Bridges” (1974)

Released in 1974, John Lennon’s fifth solo album post-The Beatles “Walls and Bridges” should in many ways have a best of the rest title imposed on it. “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” and “Imagine” were by far and away better than anything else he would produce during his solo career, but “Walls and Bridges” as an album comes in comfortably in third place. Written, recorded and released during his separation from Yoko or what was better known as Lennon’s “Lost Weekend”, “Walls and Bridges” is a very open and honest record with Lennon portraying through the music his emotions and feelings at the time.

Lyrically, Lennon addresses a whole number of topics in the songs but by in large focuses in on maturity and aging, while also having time to express his feelings towards the two main women in his life. “Going Down on Love” and “Bless You” explores his relationship with Yoko and their separation at the time, while “Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)” is a song written about his lover at the time May Pang. Apart from relationships and love, Lennon also has time for Allen Klein in “Steel and Glass” in what is a sort of “How Do You Sleep” take two, the ills of show business in “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)”, and his fear of ageing and loneliness in the haunting “Scared”. The range of themes on display in the songs in many ways signifies a man coming to terms with his maturity but also seem to paint a picture of a man lost and depressed within a “lost weekend”.  It, therefore, should be no coincidence that shortly after the album’s release Lennon was to be reunited with Yoko after a separation that lasted around eighteen months. The album has quite a slick 1970s New York feel to it and is very over-produced with layers of strings lining the songs as well as carefully constructed piano and horn arrangements. Stylistically, “Walls and Bridges” sticks largely to a standard mid-70s pop/rock formula with a mix of ballads such as “Old Dirt Road” and up-tempo numbers including “Whatever Gets You thru the Night” featuring Elton John on backing vocals. Although throughout the album there are splashes of sexy jazz “Bless You” and an underlying R&B feel that includes a soulful edginess to Lennon’s vocal delivery in what is a standout on the album.

The one main criticism I have of this album is its production. It is too over-produced as an album, something that seemed to be in vogue throughout the 70s amongst musicians in the rock/pop hybrid genre and what became a common feature of Lennon’s material post-Imagine. The slickness of the production I feel at times is quite contrived and appears unnecessary, especially as the quality of the songs could have come through better without a dense background of strings and horns. I would have plugged for a more “Plastic Ono Band” stripped back feel to allow the rawness and feeling in the lyrics to come through more. On the other hand, I shouldn’t be surprised as Lennon had been working with Phil Spector at the time, someone whom he respected as a producer and who’s “Wall of Sound” recording technique is built around the idea of records being over-produced with layers of instruments. Despite this criticism, “Walls and Bridges” remains a favorite Lennon album for me, and as a collection of songs is definitely the best he would do post-Imagine. Its historical significance is also worth noting in that it was recorded during a critical period in his life where he was away from Yoko for an extended period, while it was also his last album of original material for five years during which he would take a self-imposed exile from music lasting until 1980.

– Sam

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