All Things Must Pass (Apple ’70, Capitol '02) Rating: A Though he had authored some excellent mid-to-late ‘60s Beatles songs (“If I Needed Someone,” “Taxman,” “It’s All Too Much,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Something,” “Here Comes The Sun”), George Harrison grew increasingly frustrated by John Lennon and Paul McCartney's songwriting dominance within the band. So when The Beatles broke up it was time for George to show the world what he could do, and given the large amount of material he had stockpiled, the end result was this then-unprecedented 3-record set (which is now a handy double cd). Given Harrison’s recent death I decided to revisit the recently reissued All Things Must Pass and was pleased that the albums spectacularly lush sonics (courtesy of producer Phil Spector’s massive “Wall Of Sound”) and consistently stellar songs hold up remarkably well today, all these years later. Much has been made of Harrison’s intensely thoughtful and spiritual nature, and this is evident on every song here. However, you don’t need to be at all religious in order to enjoy Harrison’s tuneful songs. Backed up by a stellar cast of session musicians (including Derek and the Dominos and Badfinger, among others) and his own terrific guitar playing (some of which might actually be Eric Clapton), Harrison (and Spector) concoct grandly epic, echoey symphonies of sound on songs such as “Wah-Wah” and “Isn’t It A Pity.” Both of these long songs (in stark contrast to the Beatles concision) never get boring despite relying on repetition (particularly the former), though I'm not sure why "Isn't It a Pity (Version Two)" was necessary. Anyway, beautifully simple and straightforward ballads such as “I’d Have You Anytime” and “If Not For You” (the latter written by buddy Bob Dylan) are also in evidence, while the gorgeous “My Sweet Lord” (for which he was found guilty of “unconsciously plagiarizing” The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine”) and the joyous “What Is Life” are simply two of the greatest songs of the ‘70s. And that’s just the first six songs! The other 12 “normal” songs here also rise to impressive heights: the loud, bombastic "Let It Down," the darker toned "Beware Of Darkness," the poptastic "Awaiting On You All," the quietly majestic title track, the symphonic "Art of Dying" (a wah wah guitar masterclass, presumably by Mr. Clapton), and "Hear Me Lord," which indeed sounds like a solemn prayer, all come easily to mind once you've spent enough time with the album. And though the album’s overall seriousness and stylistic limitations can get wearying over the album’s almost 2-hour duration, it's not all super-serious, as songs such as "Apple Scruffs" and "I Dig Love" are charmingly fun fillers. Alas, though he has a melodic, pleasant voice, George doesn’t sing nearly as well as Lennon or McCartney (then again, few people do), and his lack of vocal range adds to the album’s one-dimensional nature. Still, the overall quality of the individual songs and the album's majestic overall mood makes it easy to forgive Harrison for being overly ambitious. Yes, even the indulgent and not especially interesting jam session that takes up all of record 3 can be forgiven (not that I ever actually listen to it, mind you), for All Things Must Pass towers over all of Harrison’s subsequent output and arguably ranks as the single finest post-Beatles breakup album from any former Beatle.
Cloud Nine (Dark Horse ’87) Rating: A-
Let’s face it, despite some good albums like Living In The Material World (1973), Thirty Three & 1/3 (1976), and George Harrison (1979), George’s solo career has been somewhat disappointing, especially since he had showed so much promise with All Things Must Pass. This was a strong comeback album, though. His first album in five years, Cloud Nine was a pleasantly well crafted and accomplished pop album. The album’s catchy, upbeat hooks were a far cry from Harrison’s usual super-seriousness, and much of the credit is likely due to producer Jeff Lynne. In fact, more than one person has suggested that this sounds like an ‘80s ELO album, and Lynne had a hand in writing some of the music as well as in providing the slick production (including his customary big drum sound). Now, a lot of people don’t take too kindly for old Jeff’s production touch, but the man knows his way around a hook, and for the first time in awhile so does Harrison, so how about we give a little credit where credit is due? (especially since he produced the best album of Tom Petty’s career two years later). Personally, I think that the rockers here are the least successful songs (not that Harrison ever "rocks" too hard), and I prefer beautifully understated ballads like “Just For Today,” “Someplace Else,” “Breath Away From Heaven,” and the bluesy, atmopsheric title track (an excellent album opener). Elsewhere, the enjoyably nostalgic “When We Was Fab” (a rare Harrison song that addresses his time with The Beatles, a la "All Those Years Ago"), and his catchy if annoyingly repetitive cover of Rudy Clark’s “Got My Mind Set On You” (originally recorded by James Ray in 1962) are the album’s best-known songs, but best of all might be catchy mid-tempo numbers like "That's What It Takes" and “This Is Love” (with its catchy “la la la las”), both of which feature gorgeous slide guitar. “Fish On The Sand” is also quite catchy and enjoyable, as is the album on the whole, even if it lacks the gravitas of his very best work. Note: Lynne and Harrison then joined forces with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty in the Traveling Wilbury's.
Brainwashed (Capitol ’02) Rating: A-
George Harrison's first solo album in 15 years was released posthumously, as George succumbed to cancer on November 29, 2001. His son Dhani and producer Jeff Lynne were entrusted with finalizing the album (exactly what was left undone at the time of his death, I don't know), and they did a fine job as far as I'm concerned. Yes, as always Lynne's production is overly slick, and I’m still not crazy about his patented snare drum sound, but he ultimately did his job, which was to get the most out of his artist. Indeed, far from sounding as if it was pieced together from scraps, Brainwashed may very well be George's second best solo album, with only the title track misfiring. This is the one case where the preachy approach that marred some of his previous solo career is hard to overlook, but at least the song is tucked away at the end of the album, and many of the other 11 melodies are unassailable. "Rising Son" and "Run So Far," both of which could've easily been hits had modern radio not turned its back on old timers such as George, in particular sound like instantly familiar classics. Perhaps due to circumstance, when George sings "you can feel your life begin" on the former I get all misty eyed, while the latter track is Harrison at his hookiest (p.s. this song had previously appeared on Eric Clapton’s Journeyman). Then again, almost all of these songs, none of which move faster than a mid-tempo pace, have effortlessly inviting melodies, whether using an upbeat delivery ("Any Road," "P2 Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night)," "Looking for My Life") or a slower, more supple style ("Pisces Fish," "Never Get Over You"). In addition, George's guitar absolutely shimmers throughout, especially on "Marwa Blues," an exquisite slide guitar showcase (his specialty) that's packed with emotion. On a more upbeat note, "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" is almost a McCartney-ish ditty and "Rocking Chair in Hawaii" is also quite hummable, as is the album on the whole. Sure, there's that one regrettable lapse, and the album also occasionally suffers from the blandness/boredom factor and the lack of variety that all of his albums have. However, far from being a forgettable finale, this almost-great goodbye damn near justifies his recent Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction (not that there aren't many more deserving artists who were passed over in his favor, but that's a story for a different day).