Friday, October 17, 2008

George Harrison 4: Living In The Material World

Coming after two successful three-record sets, George’s new album was a cause for trepidation. Just from looking at the cover of Living In The Material World it was hard to say what was afoot. There was the comfort of familiar names to suggest the music would be up to snuff, but what was the deal with all the lyrical references to the Lord and the Hindu paintings? This is where the river splits.
“Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)” has trademark slide and acoustic guitars, great harmonies and breathless “om” sections, making for a pleasant single not unlike Dylan’s “I Want You”. “Sue Me Sue You Blues” has a nasty undercurrent, similar to the sounds George and friends gave John for the Imagine LP. Having spent the previous year dealing with Apple and Bangla Desh litigation, his weariness was understandable. “The Light That Has Lighted The World” unfortunately takes that weariness to another level. This is a very pretty song with all the ingredients we’ve come to love him for, but without trying very hard he comes across as holier-than-all. “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” should have been a single, and it would have been a smash, even if consumers didn’t catch the ambiguity in the lyrics. “Who Can See It” goes back to Dirgeville, which luckily doesn’t last. The title track is a tad too conceited for a song about humility, but is notable for one of the last appearances of an emotion called humor for a few years. The so-called “big ending” is quite satisfying.
Side two is a little too similar to side four of All Things Must Pass, in that the album’s run out of steam. “The Lord Loves The One (That Loves The Lord)” is too direct for any hymnal, and is about as enjoyable as “I Dig Love”. Why is it that the same sentiments were easier to swallow on the last album? “Be Here Now” is a beautiful exploration over an open tuning, with a worthwhile lesson using honey instead of vinegar. “Try Some Buy Some” was left over from some earlier Phil & Ronnie Spector sessions, with trilling mandolins and tympanis galore. The melody is lovely and the lyrics are stupid. It’s incredibly complicated musically, in an odd key that’s not easy to play on guitar or keyboards. Klaus Voormann’s bass line drives it. “The Day The World Gets ‘Round” chronicles his feelings the morning after the Bangla Desh concerts and, like the closing “That Is All”, sounds too much like the dirges on side one for them to really stand out. He’s starting to get a little petulant, and the last song doesn’t ease it any.
The 2006 CD reissue improved on the LP by thoughtfully including two of the few rare B-sides from George’s solo career. “Deep Blue” is a loping acoustic number about his mother’s slow death to match the pathos of “Bangla Desh”, for which it had been the flipside. “Miss O’Dell” is another nonsense number, notable for his infectious laughing at the cowbell and Paul’s boyhood telephone number at the end. (2014’s Apple Years reissue included that studio version of “Bangla Desh” as well, as it hadn’t turned up anywhere else.)
While Living In The Material World doesn’t quite have all the ingredients, there’s enough here, especially on the first side, to warrant further listening. Anything would be a letdown after All Things Must Pass, but as this wasn’t a complete departure, it gets two thumbs up. In the battle of the post-Beatles he was a little shaky but still on top, and better off than the Other Three.

George Harrison Living In The Material World (1973)—
2006 CD reissue: same as 1973, plus 2 extra tracks
2014 Apple Years reissue: same as 2006, plus 1 extra track


  1. Disclaimer: I named a kid after this guy so my objectivity should be questioned. With that being said…
    Musically, LITMW works well because it allows his slide to come out and play without having to fight the huge sounds that appeared on All Things Must Pass; this album is a reminder that ol’ George could play. And you’re right, Wardo: his wonderful sense of humor gets lost and won’t really be found again until Grumpy George hooks up with Charlie T. Jr., Lucky and the boys, and that’s a shame.
    With respect to LITMW coming from his pulpit, I get why it’s too much and why fans might not have been willing to follow him, but I look at it differently. I choose to look at the lyrics on this album, and subsequent albums, not as preaching but detailing his quest of something bigger than himself. It took courage to do that because he had to know it was going to turn off people to his music, and this album is testament to how courageous a man he was. He never hid what he felt or thought.
    Is it a perfect album? Even for a George Nut? No, but it’s far better than what came after it and is perhaps less dated than anything in the Harrison catalog outside of ATMP and Brainwashed.
    I’ve listened to this album more than any other since its reissue because it’s a nice little sophomore effort. There’s plenty here to applaud.
    And I howl every single time he starts to crack up in “Miss O’Dell.”
    Thanks for the review, Wardo.

  2. the thing that always carries george's music is that he sounds sweet inside almost any song he sings. for all his soul searching and overt displays of passion and attempts to justify the ways of god to man, he's just wafting along, like a new fallen leaf on a gentle spring breeze.


  3. I have nothing to add to either of those comments. Thanks for the input, gentlemen.