The Music Box's #6 album for 2002
First Appeared at The Music Box, February 2003, Volume 10, #2
Written by John Metzger
Since embarking on a career outside The Beatles, George Harrison has had just one bona-fide classic release: All Things Must Pass. Full of pent-up energy and ideas as well as a slew of songs that were left unused by his former band, the album finally gained Harrison the respect he so rightly deserved as both a songwriter and performer. In the thirty-one years between All Things Must Pass and his untimely death in 2001, the former Beatle drifted further and further into reclusion, occasionally resurfacing with a new collection of songs. Unfortunately, these efforts served mainly to frustrate fans as, more often than not, they contained a few terrific tracks drifting amidst a sea of mediocre ones. Even his blockbuster 1987 release Cloud Nine now sounds seriously dated and overly polished by former E.L.O. leader Jeff Lynne.
If one is skeptical, then, about Harrisonís final release Brainwashed that would certainly be understandable. Not only has it been issued posthumously ó a terrible trend that generally breeds lackadaisical, unfocused mediocrity ó but it also re-teams Harrison with Lynne, whose production style has changed little over the years. Itís true that Harrison did ask Lynne to step lightly in creating the final product, and indeed, Lynne does tread a little softer than usual (perhaps tempered by the guiding hand of Harrisonís son Dhani). Yet there remain far too many moments on Brainwashed that wallow in Lynneís Beatles-meets-Phil Spector wall of sound ó so much so that one is left wondering what this album could have been if left in anyone elseís hands.
Despite all this, Brainwashed is quite an accomplishment, and itís Harrisonís most cohesive outing since All Things Must Pass. The lyrics touch upon his favorite subjects of life, death, politics, spirituality, and living in the material world. But here they take on even greater weight, knowing that as he wrote them, Harrison was staring his own mortality right in the face. Yet, Brainwashed refrains from sinking into misery or sadness. Instead, itís a warm and wonderful record, full of love and hope for a brighter tomorrow as well as graceful acceptance of the way things are. Any Road is a breezy, acoustic-tinged outing that comfortably carries Harrisonís laid-back, easy-going vocals; Looking for My Life wraps its soul-searching lyrics within music that gushes with rapturous joy; several tunes (P.2. Vatican Blues, the gorgeous instrumental Marwa Blues, Rocking Chair in Hawaii) embrace the buoyant side of blues-based pop; and that trademark, weepy, slide guitar ó it turns up everywhere, lighting the songs like rays of golden sunshine. This isnít all that surprising, of course, when one considers that Harrison found his spiritual acceptance years ago and, therefore, didnít feel the need or inclination to spend his final days whining about his imminent fate.
Did Harrison have all the answers? No. And he knew it. But he also believed that death was merely a passageway to the next life. As a result, he spends his final eleven compositions (plus one cover tune) preparing the world for his passing, and warning us about its potential future. Life is not meant to be about wealth and consumption. Itís meant to be about peace, love, and harmony with oneself, oneís neighbors, and the universe at large. "The soul does not love. It is love itself," he sings on the title track, offering a final wish and fitting goodbye, before the album drifts off in spiritual bliss.
Did Lynne overstep the bounds set by Harrisonís parting request to leave the songs with a stripped-down demo feel? Absolutely. On first listen, one is hit with the full-force of Lynneís signature style. But does that diminish the final product in any way? The answer is a resolute, "no." The more time spent with Brainwashed, the more its subtleties become apparent. All Things Must Pass is still Harrisonís finest outing, but Brainwashed runs a close second.
46th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Best Pop Instrumental Performance
Of Further Interest...
Brainwashed is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box