As expected, more walls than bridges.
John Lennon only has two albums in his solo discography worth getting: John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band and the vastly underrated-because-ubiquity Imagine. The albums that came after could be summed up in a compilation, and any of his post-Imagine albums are practically impossible to listen to in one sitting because of the combination of John Lennon’s untreated histrionic personality disorder, his growing deficit of melodies and original ideas which he tries to reconcile by throwing as many strings and horns in the record as he can find ultimately forcing the album into sounding like a cheesy mid-70s soul album, and all of that coalescing into a typical mid-70s comfort/LAZY album (that he began operating in starting with the preceding Mind Games).
The second side is a complete write-off save for “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)” with its lovely string arrangement. “#9 Dream” is a re-write of Let It Be’s “Across the Universe” while mostly-instrumental “Beef Jerky” sounds like a leftover from Sometime in New York City that sounds like it’s going to launch into “Savoy Truffle” at any moment. Elsewhere, “Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradise)” (about his new amor, May Pang) is only good for its riff and a riff that’s not that good anyway and “Ya Ya,” a clear-cut excuse for John to usher his son into the biz (Julian plays drums on it) and a clear-cut example of filler for people who believe that there’s no such thing.
And “Steel and Glass” is perhaps most representative of Walls and Bridges (and more broadly, John Lennon’s post-Imagine discography)’s problems, recycling the riff and counterpoint of “How Do You Sleep?” but dropping George Harrison’s slide guitar that powered the track. That song, if you recall, was a scathing and relentless attack on Paul McCartney. This song sounds insincere (to borrow CapnMarvel’s word on the album as a whole), because, who and what does John Lennon have to be angry about anymore? Telling quotation from the man himself about the song from 1980: “I was trying to write something nasty, and I really didn’t feel that nasty.” So his solution? As mentioned, he ups the arrangements, but to cheesy proportions, undermining whatever the song was about in the first place.
The first side’s much, much better, but still not that good; none of these songs rank among Lennon’s best, either with the Beatles or by himself. The bongo-fueled “Going Down on Love” might be the album’s catchiest song, juxtaposing his feelings following his separation with Yoko Ono and escapism through music/dance; “What You Got” has a much needed bounce on an album that barely moves; “Old Dirty Road” is really thoughtfully textured with its guitar and piano. But “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” is the obvious draw here, and though the background story is indelible (John Lennon was ill-convinced of its success and Elton John – who contributes backing vocals and plays keys – telling him that if it hit #1 – which it would, if only for a week – Lennon would have to play it with Elton John in concert at Madison Square Garden later that year), the fact is Elton John’s vocals are barely audible such that if you didn’t know the story, you wouldn’t know he was involved; the real star is Bobby Keys’ riotous saxophone.