John Lennon once called his wife-to-be, Yoko Ono, the most famous unknown artist in the world: "Everyone knows who she is, but nobody knows what she does." To many, she'll always be known—rightly or wrongly—as the woman who broke up the Beatles.
The puzzle of Ono the artist may be solved for better or worse with the recent release of Walking on Thin Ice, a compilation of cuts from a six-CD collection of her music entitled Onobox. Many listeners of the sampler alone, which includes bits from Ono's total oeuvre between 1971 and 1985, are likely to find the task daunting.
Her chilling vocals and Lennon's stunning guitar blasts on "Walking on Thin Ice," recorded shortly before he was assassinated in December 1980, and the kicking rhythms of "Kite Song" and "Woman Power" give ample evidence that Ono was definitely ahead of her time. But she fails dismally when she tries to assimilate boogie ("Midsummer New York") or dub reggae ("Don't Be Scared").
The single disc includes a 16-page companion booklet with a collection of photographs and a reprint of a 1973 piece Ono wrote for The New York Times about creativity and the ill-feeling toward her. There are also poems from her book, Grapefruit (1964), suggesting different ways to make sounds and music (for example, "Laugh Piece: Keep laughing a week)." Pretentious twaddle or misunderstood artistry? Walking on Thin Ice will help you make up your own mind. (Ryko-disc)