Okay, let’s start by saying that if you’re a really hardcore John Lennon fanatic you probably won’t find much on Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur, a 2-disc collection of covers of Lennon songs by an eclectic lineup of pop artists, that will be to your liking. Let it go. Just grit your teeth, keep telling yourself that it’s for a good cause, and move on.
In the liner notes Yoko says that “John would have proud of this album” and I’d imagine that’s true…for the fact that his music is still being used to try make the world a better place if for nothing else. That said, over the course of the 23 tracks (there are 10 additional tracks on the iTunes version) while nobody transcends the originals (too much to ask, of course) nobody thoroughly embarrasses themselves either (okay, the Black Eyed Peas come close with their tepid reworking of Lennon’s propulsive “Power to the People”…Lenny Kravitz drawls his way through an unconvincing “Cold Turkey”… Matisyahu’s dancehall reggae take on “Watching the Wheels” is heartfelt but still kind of an awkward mess…and I could have done without the space cadet version of “(Just Like) Starting Over" by the Flaming Lips.)
Amnesty International has had these songs…and others…available for download for while (click on the “Make Some Noise” banner in the right column of this page) with the proceeds going towards the ongoing crisis in
Two songs are presented twice on the set: “Imagine” is, almost as a matter of course, one of them (Avril Lavigne’s version is ever so slightly more animated than Jack Johnson’s typically laconic take) and the other is “Gimme Some Truth” (with Jaguares’ sinewy rocker running circles around the version by rock royalty offspring Jakob Dylan and Dhani Harrison.)
Some big guns step to the plate and do okay. U2 puts a reggae groove on “Instant Karma”, Green Day’s muscular “Working Class Hero” is fine (and it features a snippet of Lennon at the end), and “#9 Dream” fits nicely into R.E.M.’s wheelhouse. Christina Aguilera is surprisingly potent and controlled on “Mother” (at least until the end when her inner diva bursts out and turns Lennon’s primal scream into Broadway showstopper grandstanding.) And there is a certain ragged charm to the version of “Give Peace a Chance” by Aerosmith (featuring
Some of the highlights of the collection come from unexpected quarters: Los Lonely Boys offer up a funky romp of “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, Youssou N’Dour is enormously charming and eevocative on a bilingual version of “Jealous Guy”, Snow Patrol’s atmospheric reading of “Isolation” is quietly compelling, Postal Service’s spare electronica “Grow Old with Me” works when I imagined it shouldn’t, Big & Rich find a grand groove on “Nobody Told Me”, and Corinne Bailey Rae’s live recording of “I’m Losing You” is even more soulful than anything on her own CD.
Other tracks merit neither scorn nor many repeated listenings…Jackson Browne’s “Oh my Love” and Ben Harper’s “Beautiful Boy” both fall into this category as does the version of “God” by Jack’s Mannequin featuring Mick Fleetwood.
The collection finishes on a shimmering grace note with Regina Spektor’s lovely, compelling version of “Real Love”.
Most likely music fans will find things to like AND things to loathe on Instant Karma…and that’s cool. Just keep remembering it’s for a good cause and let it go :-)