Mind Games was meant to be a return to form for John Lennon, after an instantly dated protest album that felt didactic and cold. He seemed to be back on track with its opening Top 20 hit title song. But the rest of Mind Games could be a strangely ruminative and often mid-tempo, with a shaggy studio approach. Mind Games: The Ultimate Collection makes it clear who fans should blame: The producer.

After three straight projects with co-producers Phil Spector and Yoko Ono, Lennon took over those duties. He clearly couldn't place enough distance between himself and the material to make the best choices for these songs. An outside voice might have encouraged him to continue work on some tracks, or to toss one or two aside.

Thankfully, the new Ultimate Mixes remove many of the production excesses, while the consistently intriguing Elemental Mixes strip things down still further. What's revealed is a work of tender emotions and no small amount of genuine confusion.

Lennon was at a crossroads in 1973, professionally and personally, and this album allowed him to admit it. Every one of his mixed emotions plays out. But Mind Games: The Ultimate Collection also provides an opportunity for reassessment not unlike Peter Jackson's expansive Get Back series: The Evolution Documentary places listeners inside the studio where warm and sometimes very funny exchanges are revealed.

Unfortunately, not all of The Ultimate Collection is quite so revelatory. Its Elements Mixes quite confusingly present all of the originally over-produced songs – only without Lennon's voice. This is both beside the point and a curious subversion of the box set's entire reason for being. Mind Games still doesn't rock enough and when it tries, the LP sometimes does so unconvincingly. That's part of where Lennon was, too.

He attempts to apologize in "Aisumasen (I'm Sorry)" but in the gorgeous sorrows of "Out the Blue," Ono is already gone. That hints at how badly things were going behind the scenes. We know now just how much worse they'd become as Lennon's Lost Weekend unfolded.

Yet there's something consistently touching about this moment, finally revealed in its stillness. We hear Lennon, so often a closed-off fighter, falling back on his heels. Mind Games is the sound of someone reaching out.

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Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso

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