George Harrison and his music are best approached with deep caution, if only because his music (being former Beatle stuff) inevitably commands special attention; one wants to respect Harrison, to fathom his pursuit of Krishna, perhaps even to share his religious zealotry. “You,” the single which preceded Extra Texture, his fourth post-Beatles solo album, is not only the best thing he has done since 1971’s “My Sweet Lord,” but also promised some of the prestige and credibility he lost with last year’s sourvoiced album (Dark Horse) and fizzled tour.
Unfortunately, too much of Extra Texture relies on a continuation of the vague cant and astral pomposity Harrison’s been selling since Sgt. Pepper‘s “Within You Without You.” Philosophically, he is still unable to move past “Life is one long mystery, my friend/So read on, read on/The answer’s at the end.” Musically, despite the pleasures of “You” and a pair of minor successes on side two, the album is sketchy at best, dominated by merely competent keyboard work and Harrison’s near total avoidance of any interesting new guitar riffs. Too often, Harrison’s affectingly feeble voice is buried in a muddy, post-Spector mix.
Harrison’s hymn to a pronoun pops up twice, once in its single form at the album’s beginning, later as a 45-second reprise, “A Bit More of You,” which opens side two. After the padded subterfuges of the first side — the five-and-one-half minutes of “The Answer’s at the End” could easily be reduced to two, for instance — this overt filler is pleasant relief. Both “Can’t Stop Thinking about You” and “Tired of Midnight Blue,” which follow, are well done. Free from dogma (the former seems to be an elegy for his marriage; the other is cryptic in the manner of “Blue Jay Way”), they provide the most effective nine minutes of music Harrison’s made since his solo career began. “Midnight Blue” even features some of the guitar work Harrison so assiduously avoids elsewhere.
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But “Grey Cloudy Lies” makes up in its cathectic repetition of Krishna homiletics for whatever the others have skipped, and the final track, “His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen),” is a device for Legs Larry Smith, the former Bonzo Dog who aped his way through Eric Clapton’s 1974 comeback tour. Witless and ponderous as any previous hymn to the godhead, they drag Extra Texture down with them after its brief flurry of excitement.
There are probably reasons for this collapse, and for the general thinness of the material. “Ooh Baby (You Know that I Love You),” Harrison’s Smokey Robinson tribute, fails simply because he isn’t much of a melodist; “His Name Is Legs,” on the other hand, might be Harrison’s way of countering charges of humorlessness. (Although, since neither Smith nor Harrison is very funny, it does more to confirm the charges.) But such excuses aren’t sufficient. If his sore throat explained the complete breakdown of last year’s Dark Horse, it didn’t excuse his arrogance in deliberately recording while he was in pain. Similarly, there just isn’t compensation here for the failed promise of “This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying),” the title of which echoes “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” one of his best Beatles numbers.
Finally, we are faced with the fact that Harrison’s records are nothing so much as boring. They drone, and while chants and mantras may be paths to glory in other realms, in pop music they are only routes to tedium. Harrison is no longer a Beatle, as he has reminded us more than we have asked. But if he learned nothing else from his experience in that organization, it ought to have been that a good guitar player isn’t worth much without a band.