Milk and Honey (reissue)

Dec 5, 2001 at 12:00 am

’Tis the season for CD reissues and greatest-hits collections, most of which are ploys to get you to shell out $18 for music repackaged from five or more years ago. Some will contain extras such as previously unreleased or rare live versions of songs that were mediocre to begin with, let alone when played too loud, too fast and at a venue with bad acoustics. If they weren’t worth releasing at the time the artist was making waves, chances are they still aren’t worth it.

But Milk and Honey, reissued after 17 years, will be one CD worthy of stuffing inside the stocking for this holiday season. In addition to the original 12 songs remastered from the first release, Ono has added three unreleased songs and an interview she and Lennon gave just five hours before his murder on December 8, 1980.

Still rolling in the creative juices uncorked from the Double Fantasy sessions, this CD is noteworthy not only for being one of Lennon’s last recordings, but for being a damn good collection. On tracks such as “Nobody Told Me” and “Borrowed Time,” Lennon proved to himself and his fans that he was still one of the best songwriters of his generation. But fans only interested in Lennon’s contributions might benefit from taking a second look at Ono’s songs. Although her singing style is a bit of an acquired taste, the beauty and power of her lyrics can’t be denied. “We were Heathcliff and Cathy/In a moment of wisdom.”

But it’s Lennon and Ono’s love for each other that really shines through, and nowhere is that as apparent as on “Let Me Count The Ways” and “Grow Old With Me.” Writing to each other in the guises of the poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the songs show that after the turmoil their relationship faced in the 1970s, their passion and intensity for each other had not waned.

But the real treasure is the 22-minute interview. From the complete story of his first meeting with Ono to politics to the Double Fantasy title’s inspiration — the passion in Lennon’s voice on these topics and more is so thrilling, yet bittersweet. He had hopes for the upcoming decade that he would never have a chance to see or experience. But in the last year of his life, he and Ono produced a love story and recorded it, starting with Double Fantasy and culminating here. A love story, not just for each other, but for a generation of individuals who, like them, had survived the ’60s and ’70s, had children of their own, and were trying to find their way in a new decade.

While Lennon, like his lyric, was “living on borrowed time,” he made the most of it with Ono, and left behind an album befitting his legacy. And that makes this reissue worth every penny.

E-mail Carrie DiPirro at [email protected].