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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

George Harrison: Extra Texture (Read All About It)


1) You; 2) The Answerʼs At The End; 3) This Guitar (Canʼt Keep From Crying); 4) Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You); 5) World Of Stone; 6) A Bit More Of You; 7) Canʼt Stop Thinking About You; 8) Tired Of Midnight Blue; 9) Grey Cloudy Lies; 10) His Name Is Legs (Ladies & Gentlemen).

General verdict: Bland, monotonously self-pitying, not particularly memorable, but still vaguely moving — this record will test your feelings for George for all theyʼre worth.

It is a bit tough to defend an album whose most memorable song (and pretty much the only one still featured on compilations and fondly remembered by critics) is an outtake from five years back: ʽYouʼ is a number that George originally donated to Ronnie Spector, and he did not even bother properly remaking it, utilising the original tape and simply throwing in a few more over­dubs. This is why you may be startled as the record begins playing, thinking that George has managed to rekindle the All Things Must Pass vibe — ʽYouʼ rushes along furiously with the same power as ʽWhat Is Lifeʼ and ʽAwaiting On You Allʼ, though its melodic structure is com­parably simpler (which is probably why it did not withstand competition in the first place).

You will also be misled into thinking that Extra Texture, Georgeʼs first album after the many disasters of 1974, will be a positive, life-asserting statement, an optimistic spiritual cry of defiance in the face of overwhelming, but bravely surmountable odds: that he is finding plenty of strength to go on as long as he has ʽyouʼ — be that a new human love or the old love for God, as it so frequently remains incomprehensible from the lyrics alone, like in classical Persian poetry or something. At the very least, somebody must have been misled back in 1975, when some people in the world still gave a damn about the next George Harrison record.

Alas, once the song is over, it becomes quite clear that not only was it the reddest of herrings, but that, in fact, Extra Texture is Georgeʼs grimmest, glummest, gloomiest, most self-pitying artistic statement to date — even beating out Dark Horse, which was hardly a walk in the park itself. No doubt shaken and stirred by the hostile reaction to his American tour, George pours it all out like never before. Just take a look at some of the words used in the songsʼ titles — "end", "crying", "stone", "tired", "blue", "grey", "lies"; there is hardly even a single reference to that consoling divine presence any more, this is like frickinʼ chapter 3 of The Book of Job all over again.

But that in itself would be okay. George really must have felt like shit at the time, and a great artist who sincerely feels like shit can make great use of it in the studio — and Harrison, of all people, was quite well known for converting sorrow and depression into fabulous music. The problem is that most of these songs are quite far from fabulous. They are not bad, but it seems that at this particular moment Georgeʼs knack for brilliant musical hooks had deserted him: the material is quite ordinary and looks like it was somehow self-forced out of the artist rather than flowed out of him through inspiration. Slow, monotonous, with hardly any striking new chord changes or inventive arrangement details, these songs read more like routine newspaper bulletins on the state of Georgeʼs mental and spiritual health. (Hence the albumʼs title, perhaps?).

A good case in point is ʽThis Guitar (Canʼt Keep From Crying)ʼ, a song that was very obviously conceptualized as a «sequel» to ʽWhile My Guitar Gently Weepsʼ — a bad, bad, bad idea. With clumsy and quickly dated lyrics ("learned to get up when I fall / Can even climb Rolling Stone walls" — poor rhythm, silly jab), a melody that seems like a seriously inferior, broken variation on the original classic, and very awkward and unnecessary use of the ARP synthesizer, it has a distinct whiff of unintentional self-parody. It demands to be taken seriously, but in the general context of George Harrison as a master songwriter this is impossible to do — in fact, it only makes matters worse. It might have been easier to stomach if it were openly parodic.

Much better is ʽThe Answerʼs At The Endʼ, whose verse melody recaptures some of the majesty of All Things and Living... — a simple, but stately progression with George clearly in better control of himself and the bass / piano dialogue reminiscent of ʽIsnʼt It A Pityʼ. But it pretty much falls apart in the chorus ("donʼt be so hard on the ones that you love..."), which is annoyingly repetitive, lacks a convincing conclusion and ultimately gets looped over and over again as if it were openly mocking the songʼs title — not only is there no answer, there is not even any suitably memorable end.

As the record goes by, you gradually understand that this slow, smooth, depressed vibe is going to characterize every single song — even love ballads such as ʽOoh Babyʼ and ʽCanʼt Stop Thinking About Youʼ are full of tragism: ʽOoh Babyʼ has lines like "I wonʼt say itʼs forever / Right now while weʼre together" and a vocal delivery that is somewhere in between «tenderest ever» and «dying dog», while ʽCanʼt Stop Thinking About Youʼ is about separation and loss, with a nice buildup in the verse but, once again, an excruciatingly repetitive chorus.

I do like the weepy flow of ʽWorld Of Stoneʼ and the quirky jazzy chords of ʽTired Of Midnight Blueʼ, but even those technically good songs overstay their welcome and very quickly run out of ideas. This is weird, because the overall song lengths do not seem that large compared to previous records, yet somehow there is this uneasy feel that every single tune here drags on and on, with the album severely padded out despite only having nine songs on it (the tenth track, ʽA Bit More Of Youʼ, as you can guess, is an all-too-brief reprise of ʽYouʼ at the beginning of Side B). Clearly this is just because the tempos, tones, and melodic backbones leave much to be desired.

The very last song is significantly different, yet it also happens to be pretty bad: ʽHis Name Is Legsʼ is a literally out-of-nowhere tribute to ʽLegsʼ Larry Smith, the drummer of The Bonzo Dog Band and Georgeʼs good pal — with lyrics that will only be comprehensible to major fans of the Bonzos and Monty Python and a jumpy, but oddly stiff melody with elements of funk-pop and absolutely no humorous undercurrent to it. I mean, if you are writing a tribute to a comedian, you might as well make it funny, no? And if you were in no shape to create something funny, then why indulge your good friend at precisely such an inconvenient moment in your life? A very weird and misguided gesture that ends this weird and misguided album on the most weird and misguided note one could ever imagine.

That said, while this is probably one of the least likely Harrison albums for me to revisit, Extra Texture holds enough sincerity and charisma to at least be accepted as another important chapter in the life of this extraordinary person. You do get to understand that he was feeling quite shitty, and you do get to sympathize; whether you would want to embrace these songs for yourself and save them up for your own rainy day is quite another matter. It is interesting, too, that George must have hit that wall at about the same time as John (whose own crisis was set in stone just one year earlier with Walls And Bridges) and just a wee bit earlier than Ringo (who was never that hot about spilling his own troubles on record, but would still go through a fairly dark streak in 1976–78). As for Paul... well, Paul had Wings. ʼNuff said. 

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, this album is pretty rough - it may even be my least favourite George album, including even Somewhere in England. Fortunately, Thirty-Three-and-a-Third picks things up considerably.