‘The Quiet Beatle’ leaves fans ‘Brainwashed’

By Chris Leeds
January 30, 2003

Angelina Wagner

George Harrison liked to give the impression that he was happier working in his garden than making music, but that was deceptive. As evidenced by his work with the Traveling Wilbury’s and other fleeting appearances suggest, he was content to make music as long as it was on his terms. Although his last studio album, “Cloud Nine,” was released in 1987, he continued to write and record feverishly. Shortly before his death a year ago, he spoke of releasing some of that work, but unfortunately he did not live to see the project through.

The task to salvage this music fell to his son Dhani and former Wilbury colleague Jeff Lynne. The two have brought together a dozen of these recordings in “Brainwashed” (Dark Horse/Capitol Records). The music is vintage Harrison: laid-back but by no means underpowered, with melodies tugged between major and minor keys, and lyrics that are filled with humorous wordplay and cutting directness. His trademark slide guitar shines through everywhere and is particularly fluid in the instrumental “Marwa Blues” and at the start of “Stuck Inside a Cloud.” Harrison is certainly not a guitarist who retired to the garden.

A few songs are familiar: “Run So Far,” recorded by Eric Clapton in 1989, and the clever, upbeat “Any Road,” performed for a VH1 special in 1997 (incidentally not broadcast until after Harrison’s death). His new material has a memorable ring. The underlying theme, after all, is one that has pervaded nearly all of Harrison’s work since the seminal release of “All Things Must Pass” in 1970: the trappings of success are meaningless compared with the quest for spirituality. In the structurally fascinating title track, he delves through a catalog of worldly cynicism, pauses for an aside about the nature of the soul and offers a Hindu chant as an extended coda. Nonetheless, Harrison’s piety is not proper: who else would contrast, as he does in “Brainwashed,” a backing chorus singing “God God God,” with a lead vocal line that includes an expletive?

The special edition of the “Quiet Beatle’s” last release comes with a DVD which focuses on Harrison, his son and Lynne. Lynne sums up all of the footage in saying his last words about George: “I think he’d want to be remembered as a great musician…and a gardner.”

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