My first conscious experience with “George Harrison the solo artist” was with the video for “All Those Years Ago,” resulting in possibly my first album purchase (so young … so impressionable). It was a pleasant album with nice songs in what I would come to learn is the classic George Harrison style, but aside from the radio/video single, none of the tracks really lept off the vinyl as likely to sell five million singles. Such is the case with Brainwashed, Harrison’s final album, posthumously produced by Jeff Lynne and son Dhani Harrisonand and his first since 1987’s well-received Cloud Nine. Instead of flash and the material trappings of success, Harrison continues his quiet quest for personal peace. The 10 original songs (plus one cover) on this final outing are filled with sincerity, wisdom, humor, warmth and personal insights. For the most part, Lynne and Dhani were astoundingly true to Harrison’s style and vision, although now and then you can hear a double handful of Lynne’s fairy dust that remind you he’s behind the mixer.
The album kicks off with George asking “Give me plenty of that guitar,” a wry smile in his voice, and the music kicks in with “Any Road,” an apt celebration of life that simultaneously reminds us “If you don’t know where you’re going / Any road will take you there.” The joyous upbeat shuffle propels along with “plenty of that guitar,” Harrison’s trademark slide guitar, and an instrument called a banjulele. Melodic slide guitar is in the forefront of the dreamy instrumental “Marwa Blues,” a peaceful, reflective piece that could have easily been composed while pursuing his love of gardening.
Never one to pull punches, the title track is an assault on the false gods of our society, going after everything from politicians to mobile phones and the stock market. Harrison backloads this punchy song with a call to God, slowing the song considerably for a bit of tabla and a reading from the Hindu text “How to Know God.” Likewise “P.2. Vatican Blues” is a scathing address to the Catholic Church set to a standard 12-bar blues progression.
The highlights of the album are definitely the more personal songs such as the single “Stuck Inside A Cloud.” Here Harrison yearns to extricate himself from the fodder of life with lyrics that could also allude to his cancer such as “I made some exhibition / I lost my will to eat” with a relaxed, emotive vocal surely among the best of his career. Deep emotions also boil to the surface in “Pisces Fish,” another contemplative song about the joys of “mundane” life most of us miss, comparing himself with “I’m a Pisces fish and the river [of life] runs through my soul.”
While this album shot to No. 1 in Japan, it’s been largely ignored in this country of staunch radio formats. While disappointing to some, the quiet Beatle was never about success and would have surely taken such news with a quiet smile. Instead these charmingly modest songs full of melodic guitar leads and personal lyrics exist in relative obscurity, availing themselves to those who would seek them. Like his personality, they are in turn funny, spiritual, serious, critical and philosophical, yet somehow always remaining light and upbeat. Highly recommended for anyone who’s ever enjoyed a George Harrison album.
First published 2003 in WhatzUp.