Monday, July 14, 2008

George Harrison 2: All Things Must Pass

For his first real solo album, George came bursting out of the gate with a multi-record boxed set to prove to the world that his talents hadn’t been realized to their utmost potential. Granted, one of the three discs consists of pretty simple instrumentals, but compared to the down-home qualities of the other three’s 1970 solo output, All Things Must Pass is a natural progression from the sophistication of Abbey Road. And, after having been kept on a short leash for John’s concurrent album, Phil Spector got his big chance to really go nuts with a Beatle in the studio.
Oddly enough, despite George’s status as the “mystical one” who dragged everyone to India, the strongest musical tone throughout is country-and-western. Looking at the credits on the inside cover of the box we see such names as Bob Dylan and Pete Drake, and the first notes suggest a Nashville influence. The sultry “I’d Have You Anytime” welcomes us in with lyrical help from Dylan, deep in his own Nashville phase. “My Sweet Lord” follows, the first really overt religious number in George’s repertoire. It would not be his last. “Wah-Wah” was allegedly written the day he walked out of the Get Back sessions; while he’d explained that the title is a euphemism for a headache, it’s also the effect pedal we hear near the start of the song. It’s a great tune, with all those guitars chiming along, horns blaring, and what sounds like a car driving off at the very end. “Isn’t It A Pity” closes this perfect album side, starting so gently and carrying us away with the slightest variations on the same chords.
“What Is Life” is another classic; when he wants to, he can praise the Lord without being preachy and still get played on the radio. His version is still the best of “If Not For You”, as the arrangement is much more delicate than Dylan’s or anyone else’s. “Behind That Locked Door” is very country on the surface, but is a sweet love song to a sad friend. “Let It Down” is 1970 Rock done correctly without being dated. He’d tried this with the Beatles, but John and Paul either couldn’t or wouldn’t learn it, and it’s their loss. “Run Of The Mill” gently takes us out of the second side, with his usual jumpy time changes. Another great end to another great side.
“Beware Of Darkness” rises like the sunrise, and is just as invigorating. The guitar solo really shines, underneath that haunting arrangement. “Apple Scruffs” is fairly Dylanesque, and not just because of the harmonica. As grumpy as George could be, it’s clear he did appreciate some of the attention from his fans. “The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” has the most pointless lyrics so far, but the simple chords and the piano work every time. “Awaiting On You All” is a fairly rousing Christian rock number that couldn’t possibly offend an atheist. And while the title track may seem as timely as that year’s headlines, it’s simply an homage to his new friends in The Band.
With three sides in a row resulting in a full hour of great music, we can almost forgive the less exciting remainder. Well, almost; “I Dig Love” just plain stinks, and it’s surprising that Lenny Kravitz hasn’t stolen it yet, as it’s right up his THC-clogged alley. “Art Of Dying” brings us back with its nasty riffing and nightmare strings, but another, inferior version of “Isn’t It A Pity” serves no purpose. “Hear Me Lord” ends the side oddly, with its uncertainty a striking contrast to the happy God songs on the other sides. (This was also shown to the Beatles, and it’s not surprising to know they weren’t impressed with the words. But it’s still a pretty powerful song.)
After all that, he’s somewhat justified in showing off with his buddies on the “Apple Jam” disc. “Out Of The Blue” is kicked open in progress, and while it’s the longest jam it’s still the best. “It’s Johnny’s Birthday” provides some long overdue humor, going right into “Plug Me In”. “I Remember Jeep” has some synthesizer whoops and beeps scattered across it, while “Thanks For The Pepperoni” gets its inspiration from the Chuck Berry riff.
The rest of George’s solo career had to live up to this strong start. All Things Must Pass has only gained more sentimental value, and a worthy investment for anyone who has all the Beatle albums yet is tentative about leaping into the murky waters of their solo careers.
The original CD issue had the first (and best) three sides on one disc, with the rest on the other. The 2001 reissue (and the 2014 Apple Years edition) modified this and beefed it up a bit: the first disc has sides one and two plus new bonus tracks, and the second has sides three and four plus “Apple Jam” in what was supposedly the original sequence before it was shuffled to fit on the LP better. Of the bonuses, the best one is the hokey but sweet “I Live For You”. This is just one of the tunes he’d sat on during the end of the Beatles, and would have been appreciated more in 1970 than “I Dig Love” or the second “Isn’t It A Pity”. “Beware Of Darkness” and “Let It Down” are acoustic demos, with a little modern sweetening in the case of the latter. The backing track for “What Is Life” shows off more mariachi trumpet that was thankfully wiped from the final mix, and “My Sweet Lord (2000)” is no replacement for the original.

George Harrison All Things Must Pass (1970)—
2001 remaster: same as 1970, plus 5 extra tracks

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