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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

George Harrison: George Harrison


1) Love Comes To Everyone; 2) Not Guilty; 3) Here Comes The Moon; 4) Soft-Hearted Hana; 5) Blow Away; 6) Faster; 7) Dark Sweet Lady; 8) Your Love Is Forever; 9) Soft Touch; 10) If You Believe.

General verdict: An album about finding inner and outer peace — turns out all you need is a good woman, a nice sports car, a holiday in Waikiki, and, uh, the Lord by your side, of course.

This is the story of a man named George. He had married a beautiful woman once, but she left him for his best friend, and his world broke down. The only thing that could comfort him is that it was a rotten, stinking, disgustingly material world in the first place, and he kept going around telling this to everybody until people really got tired of it and began avoiding him in the streets, saying "there goes the anti-material George again, save yourself who can!" He even lost his voice over it, and when they brought him to court to defend himself over a song he stole from a girl group, he couldnʼt articulate properly, so he lost the lawsuit.

But then one day this poor man named George met another beautiful woman, and suddenly, life was not so gloomy and depressing any more. She bore him a son. They got married. The awful, repulsive material world began to look like Godʼs marvelous creation rather than just a bunch of illusive temptations to lead one astray. Holidays in Hawaii, travels with Formula 1, peaceful domestic bliss... everything was right again, and so this is where our story winds up with a happy ending. As a postscriptum, the man named George went into the studio and recorded an album about it all, which he appropriately called George, because it symbolized the beginning of a whole new life. His salvation IN the material world, not FROM it.

The result is almost too sweet: not even 33 & 1/3, Georgeʼs most relaxed record so far, was that openly bursting with happiness and cuddliness. Fortunately, with total sincerity being Georgeʼs main weapon at all times, there is never any feeling that this cuddliness is being somehow forced on you; and even more fortunately, Georgeʼs songwriting instincts were still functioning quite well at the time, so that at least half of these songs have unique catchy bits that will help store that cuddliness in your brain cells until you become fully at peace with it.

Take ʽLove Comes To Everyoneʼ, the opening manifesto whose message is already perfectly expressed in the title. Its verse-a-chorus is really just one long, winding, twisted, and smoothly resolved musical phrase that pushes you, the grumpy depressed listener, inside a musical glass retort and pops you out at the other end in a purified and redeemed state of mind. "Go do it / got to go through that door / thereʼs no easy way out at all" indeed, but "still it only takes time / ʼtil love comes to everyone". Cheesy, but admirably so. Even Steve Winwoodʼs Polymoog solo seems to send up psychedelic rainbows in the air. But what really clinches the deal is the overall production: somehow, despite all the overdubs, the song sounds as if it was recorded in Georgeʼs backyard garden, very cozy and homely.

Ditto for ʽBlow Awayʼ, the lead single from the album; a little more conventionally divided into strict verses and choruses — the former slowly floating, the latter picking up the tempo to an almost ʽOb-La-Di Ob-La-Daʼ-ish effect — it pretty much makes the same point. I remember first hearing this song on a best-of compilation, back when most of my solo George experience was restricted to All Things Must Pass and Living In The Material World, and thinking, «wow, somebody has really gone all soft and cuddly on this one» — yet even despite all my natural teenage alergy to saccharine, there was something about the vibe and the pacing that made it perfectly acceptable for the rebel heart. The only thing that still irritates me is the exaggerated simplicity and the intentional repetitiveness of the chorus — thereʼs only so many "all I gotta do is to love you"ʼs that one can deliver before overstating the point. (Word from the wise: if you want to repeat the same chorus twice in a row, at least take the trouble to write different words for each bar. Itʼs not like you have to be a Bob Dylan to succeed or anything).

Both of these songs essentially count as universalist messages, which very much warranted their release as singles; however, Georgeʼs gratitude to the one who saved his life should have also been expressed in a more personal manner — the bulk of Side B consists of three love serenades in a row whose exhibitionist nature cannot be denied. They hardly count among Georgeʼs best ballads — the vocal twists of ʽDark Sweet Ladyʼ make it sound too much like a variation on ʽLearning How To Love Youʼ from the previous album; ʽYour Love Is Foreverʼ is too slow, takes too much time to develop, and is never properly resolved; and ʽSoft Touchʼ, true to its name, has a much too relaxed Hawaiian vibe to be seriously viewed as much more than a good soundtrack to a frozen daiquiri. But all three songs still present you with additional occasions to enjoy Georgeʼs guitar tricks, the honest beauty of his (now cured) singing voice, and a slick, but natural production style, unspoilt by any trends of the era: since the overriding goal here is intimacy and sincerity, any toying with contemporary fashions would have ended in a disaster.

This «happy diary» approach is only interrupted thrice. ʽFasterʼ is a somewhat unexpected ode to Formula 1 — perhaps it was bound to come sooner or later, given Georgeʼs preoccupation with the subject, but in any case it does not properly hold up, looking more like a belated realization of a personal fetish than an actual musical success. ʽSoft-Hearted Hanaʼ, another reflection of the trip to Hawaii, is more of a comical vaudeville interlude in the spirit of Georgeʼs beloved Monty Python — fun, and well in line with the overall light-hearted tone of the album, but nothing to keep around in your back pocket on cold and lonely winter nights, so to speak. Still, both songs do their best to vary the flow of the album in general, and anything that reminds us about Georgeʼs interests other than «love of God» and «love of my wife» is at least theoretically welcome on any album of his — some day, I guess, they will just have to release a George Harrison Sings About Secular Matters compilation to battle the stereotypes.

The really odd number in the sack is ʽNot Guiltyʼ, a long-forgotten (though not by loyal fans and trusty bootleggers) outtake from The White Album whose reasons for resurrection at this particular point in time kind of evade me. A decent tune that suffers from a somewhat clumsy construction of the vocal melody (probably the reason why it was rejected in 1968), it shares the desperate, world-weary attitude of ʽWhile My Guitar Gently Weepsʼ and would have fit in much better on something like Extra Texture, perhaps even scoring a whole extra (texture) point for that album. Most likely, this was simply done on a whim (George was going through some old tapes while writing his autobiography); be it as it may, the song curiously disrupts the albumʼs flow much the same way as ʽIʼm Losing Youʼ disrupts the mood of Double Fantasy, on which see more below — fortunately, since both songs are strong in their own right, the disruption causes no permanent damage, but rather helps offer a window into another part of life that is generally excluded from our listening pleasure.

Last, but not least, is the somewhat infamous ʽHere Comes The Moonʼ, a song whose title really does all the talking and this is a bit sad — it is very evocative in its own right, with George trying as hard as possible to paint a musical picture of the starry skies, but in the end it really "looks like a little brother to the sun", that is, to ʽHere Comes The Sunʼ, merely an honest reflection of one person peacefully contemplating heavenly beauty, rather than a veritable anthem to resurrection and rejuvenation. Ironically enough, the message of ʽHere Comes The Sunʼ, a song written in 1969 at a time when the smiles were actually doing anything but returning to the faces, was at no other time more relevant to George than in 1979 — and yet in 1979 he was no longer capable of writing a song with that particular kind of power, no offense intended to the likes of ʽLove Comes To Everyoneʼ or ʽBlow Awayʼ.

One last curious observation is that George happened to reach that state of domestic musical bliss almost at the same time as John — just a wee bit earlier, which almost makes one wonder if listening to George Harrison could not have become one of the incentives for John to go back into the musical world (and get killed, so here is a great way to spin the thread all the way back and blame Johnʼs death on George, if you have a knack for exploring conspiracies and/or causalities). Indeed, this is Georgeʼs own equivalent of Double (well, single, in his case — George, of all people, had the good taste to never let his wives get involved in his music) Fantasy, and comparing his reflection of peaceful domestic bliss with Johnʼs is an interesting topic in its own right. One observation that can be made is that Johnʼs approach is far more egocentric and introspective — Double Fantasy is really all about himself (even Yoko is primarily regarded in her John-altering function), whereas George Harrison, curiously, is all about describing the beauties of the world around the describer. Indeed, the «quiet Beatle», despite his reputation for shyness and reclusiveness, has always preferred to cast his gaze around and observe, whereas the «rowdy Beatle» was far more prone to cast those looks inside his own soul.

But neither of these approaches has a monopoly on greatness, and if the songs on George Harrison ultimately lose out to Lennonʼs material on Double Fantasy (in my opinion), it mainly has to do with the amazing fact that John had somehow managed to retain his sharpness and strength, while George is acting totally relaxed here — the entire record sounds as if the artist never got out of his hammock while recording it. Which does work relatively fine this time around, admittedly, but would soon backfire when George would try the exact same trick for Gone Troppo.


  1. "suddenly, life was not so gloomy and depressing any more"
    Perhaps financing Life of Brian also helped. I mean, if hanging around with the guys from Monty Python doesn't cheer you up, what does?

  2. A great artist that had brilliant moments with The Beatles and alone. But this one is not a career high point. Can't find a song half as good as masterpieces such as Isn't it a pitty, Beware of the darkness or the Art of dying.