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Maybe it’s too soon to release a John Lennon tribute, with the horrors of May 23 still fresh in our minds. Beatles fans haven’t fully recovered from that night’s American Idol finale salute to Sgt. Pepper — an assault that saw Taylor Hicks turning ”A Day in the Life” into a Michael Bolton ballad. Amid this lingering posttraumatic stress comes Instant Karma, a charity project that finds superstars and cult artists tackling Lennon’s personal, peace-mongering, hard-to-cover solo canon. Among the big names are Christina Aguilera, an unlikely pick for the raw, melisma-defying ”Mother,” and Avril Lavigne, the noted socialist idealist, inviting us to ”Imagine.” Let the healing begin?
With 23 cuts on the two-CD version and 34 on the extended iTunes edition, there’s good and bad Karma to go around — not always lining up how you’d expect. Aguilera tames the histrionics, and given her famous parental issues, ”Mother” is a clever choice. Lavigne, meanwhile, brings surprising tenderness to ”Imagine,” even if her current hit, ”Girlfriend,” begs the question of how boyfriend-stealing will hasten the new utopia.
If they aren’t bringing the lameness, who is? Try U2, whose title track saddles Lennon’s blissfully chaotic rocker with a polite backbeat and curiously dispassionate Bono vocal. Even Duran Duran are able to deliver a livelier take on ”Instant Karma,” for the iTunes version. They at least get how hectoring Lennon’s anthems could be, while U2 seem distracted by the song’s potential to be an inspirational theme for a refugee-awareness TV special.
Green Day also get the churlish spirit of ”Working Class Hero” right, though Billie Joe Armstrong’s affectations (”something to beer”?) may be provocative only to speech therapists. Jack Johnson’s ”Imagine” (one of three renditions here) is such a snore, it could prompt a new wave of bed-ins. At least R.E.M. mean to get sleepy with their faithful ”#9 Dream.”
It’s left to less marquee names to truly merit your cash, with the Postal Service, Deftones, and a cool Dylan-Harrison matchup — scions Jakob and Dhani — generating some of the most revved-up or thoughtful reinterpretations. Regina Spektor’s ”Real Love” outstrips the modest original — blasphemous as that is to say — by introducing rich undercurrents. Her nearly classical piano arrangement adds a run of fearsome, dark chords around the ”No need to be afraid” section, so that when she breaks into the chorus’ tender promise, it’s a fantastic sunburst. I’ve never been a huge Spektor booster before, but for these three minutes and 56 seconds, she’s my new American idol. B
Download This: ”Real Love”