Time hasn’t treated the individual Beatles’ solo projects kindly. Probably most of John Lennon’s self-advertisements were never intended to reverberate any longer than the now-defunct media myths they once exploited. Paul McCartney carries on as a singles craftsman no heavier than Elton John, and Ringo Starr cranks out stale party jokes.
But the years have been cruelest to George Harrison. Because he insisted on assuming the Fab Four’s spiritual mantle long after their breakup, his solo albums, which strived so mightily for the timeless, now seem the most dated of all. Though it yielded a couple of majestic singles, the ponderous Bruckner-cum-raga sound that Phil Spector helped Harrison create on All Things Must Pass today appears lugubriously dinosaurian, while the singer’s romantic-monk stance was overshadowed years ago by smarter, hipper pop psychologists.
After several highly uneven LPs that saw the audience for his mystic musings dwindle dramatically, Harrison has come up with his finest record since All Things Must Pass. A collection of ten catchy pop songs, George Harrison reminds us that this artist was always a much better tunesmith than priest. Though not as versatile a writer as McCartney, Harrison has the most distinct melodic style of any of the Beatles. He’s an old-fashioned rock & roll balladeer with a quasi-Eastern harmonic signature and a simplicity of phrasing that can be either disarmingly childlike or portentously prayerful, depending on how seriously he takes himself.
George Harrison is refreshingly lighthearted. The austere, pontifical tone is gone, and the singer sounds more like a happily eccentric gentleman/mystic than a burningly devout Krishna advocate. The new album is filled with breezy love songs to the deity and to women — to Harrison, the two seem almost interchangeable. Though the lyrics occasionally lapse into fulsome syntax (“Breath it’s always taken when it’s new/Enhance upon the clouds around it”), most of these numbers are relaxed and playful. “All I got to do is to love you/All I got to be is, be happy,” he sings in “Blow Away,” the LP’s strongest track and the one that best typifies its spirit.
With co-producer Russ Titelman, Harrison has tightened up and pared down his usual voice-from-the-murk style in which chiming, sliding guitars invariably share equal weight with his singing. The arrangements are the most concise and springy to be found on any Harrison record. “Not Guilty,” “Here Comes the Moon” and “Soft-Hearted Hana” transport us back into psychedelic lotus land, but their tone is so airy and whimsical that the nostalgia is as seductive as it is anachronistic. And the prettiness of the melodies (especially “Love Comes to Everyone,” “Not Guilty,” “Blow Away” and “Your Love Is Forever”) keeps the artist’s comic-book psychobabble, which promises everything to everyone, from sounding hopelessly absurd.
Though George Harrison has nothing at all to do with the Seventies, its deft combination of the quaint and the slick makes the Sixties seem a trifle less remote.