If Cloud Nine were simply a decent record, it would still mark a major comeback for George Harrison, whose latter-day solo efforts have for the most part presented little more than a tired blend of spiritual, romantic and musical banalities. But the good news is that Cloud Nine — Harrison's first album since 1982's Gone Troppo — is considerably more than merely decent; it is in fact an expertly crafted, endlessly infectious record that constitutes Harrison's best album since 1970's inspired All Things Must Pass.
Some of the credit for Cloud Nine's success must go to Harrison's coproducer, Jeff Lynne. If somewhere along the line the Beatle George forgot how to shape a pop record, Lynne — who's led the Electric Light Orchestra on its own heavily Fab Four-inspired magical mystery tour — obviously has not. The opening track, "Cloud Nine," is a surprisingly hard-edged midtempo rocker that features some tastily restrained riffing from Harrison and Eric Clapton. Right from that strong beginning, Cloud Nine powerfully reaffirms Harrison's considerable charm as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. (He and Lynne are helped along by some simpatico instrumental backing from such notables as Clapton, Ringo Starr, Elton John and Gary Wright.)
Throughout Cloud Nine, Harrison and Lynne add layers of inspired production touches that make undeniable aural confections even out of some of the album's lovely but slight songs ("Fish on the Sand," "This Is Love," "Just for Today," "Got My Mind Set on You," "Someplace Else"). When the team brings its sonic smarts to bear on more substantial numbers ("Cloud Nine," "When We Was Fab," "That's What It Takes," "Wreck of the Hesperus"), the results make for sublime pop.
Cloud Nine is an especially heartwarming return to form because it suggests Harrison has come to terms with his own Beatledom. "When We Was Fab," the eerie Sgt. Pepper-sound-alike track that ends the first side of the album, is Harrison's droll sendup of and tribute to his days as a Beatle. And on the album sleeve, George saves the last of his special thanks for John, Paul and Ringo. And that's only appropriate, because Cloud Nine is a totally fab record that lives up to the legacy of all those years ago.