November 06, 1995 12:00 PM

Various Artists

This collection of John Lennon tunes is being issued to celebrate what would have been the singer’s 55th birthday earlier this month. But while the selection of honoree is impeccable, the execution is, to be charitable, uneven.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers open things up with a fine and rocking “I Found Out,” but Candlebox (who does “Steel and Glass”), The Minus 5 (“Power to the People”) and The Magnificent Bastards (“How Do You Sleep?”) fail to make Lennon’s ultra-personal compositions their own. Worse, Toad the Wet Sprocket takes “Instant Karma”—a terrific ’70s pop song—and turns it into a parody of a bad ’70s pop song with a plodding bass line. Dinosaur rockers Cheap Trick—remember them?—present a watered-down “Cold Turkey,” undermining the song’s message about the horrors of drug addiction. It’s hard to choose a low point, but it may be Blues Traveler’s Holiday Inn-lounge version of “Imagine,” which simply begs for a Bill Murray vocal track. Equally disappointing is George Clinton’s phoned-in, cacophonous “Mind Games.”

The problem here is succinctly identified in the liner notes by Mary Chapin Carpenter, whose version of “Grow Old with Me” is a rare album highlight: “The definitive versions of his songs already exist.” Perhaps it’s fitting that proceeds from this tribute album are going to fund programs for the spaying and neutering of cats and dogs. It’s an honorable cause, but one as unexciting as this collection of performances. (Hollywood)

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