Friday, November 7, 2008

George Harrison 5: Dark Horse

“Shaky” is a kind word for this collection, thrown together over three weeks for release a full 18 months after his last album to coincide with a tour for which he was not prepared. (Having had such accolades for the Bangla Desh concerts, he took a mutated version of it across America for Thanksgiving. There were several problems with this: having an extended Shankar section in the middle of the set sent most folks to the bathroom; Billy Preston using his ego to fill any parts of the stage not already dwarfed by his afro; Tom Scott; George trying to distract us from his hoarse voice with a rack full of hideous plaid pants.)
The Dark Horse album itself isn’t all it could have been. A quick glance at the lyrics forebodes of more sermonizing and half-baked Frankie Crisp proverbs. The opening “Hari’s On Tour (Express)” is a forecast of everything that would be wrong with his next batch of albums, but in this case, it’s a sterile instrumental featuring the insipid LA Express wimp-jazz ensemble. The first real song, “Simply Shady”, sounds like George is singing in the bathroom, but it’s just an effect to cover the rasp of his throat. There’s an odd reference to Sexy Sadie, and it’s not a bad tune. “So Sad” is easily the best song on the album, with plenty of 12-string guitars and time changes to fit with his other classics. Even his shot voice can’t torpedo this one. “Bye Bye Love” may well have been assembled during a drunken spree; whatever the reason, its inclusion is ill-advised. It was embarrassing enough to hear John and Paul slapping each other on successive albums, but here was George naming names over his wife running off with Eric Clapton. (Considering those are his future wife’s eyes peeking at us from the label of side two, he’s not winning much sympathy.) “Maya Love” is supposed to be a clever pun but somehow the song refuses to stick.
“Ding Dong; Ding Dong” is pretty sour for a Christmas song, though it may have inspired Paul to write a song about his own doorbell. (That would be “Let ‘Em In”. And when you include “(Just Like) Starting Over” and “Sentimental Journey”, you’ve got the concept EP that never was!) “Dark Horse” has some potential, but coming this late in the program, it’s sunk by the vocal. As a single it was a safe choice, sounding very much like the last album. It’s rare to hear George using the first person in this manner. “Far East Man” was written with Ron Wood, with a sarcastic dedication to Frank Sinatra at the start. Had it been recorded by the Stylistics with different words, this could have been a Hey Love soul classic. “It Is ‘He’ (Jai Sri Krishna)” closes it all out with too many flutes and a chant with none of the universal charm that made “My Sweet Lord” so popular.
Much of his late-Beatles backlog had already been recorded, with the exception of some gems that had been demoed in 1970 only to be shelved for upwards of forty years and counting. Why these lifeless songs got preference over more developed material is a mystery he’d refuse to ever answer. Despite several attempts with an open mind, Dark Horse may have actually gotten worse over the years.
The album waited a long time before getting its requisite reissue from the Harrison estate; it dutifully included the B-side “I Don’t Care Anymore”, a truly sullen castoff from the album sessions, which, despite its tone, deserved to be heard again. (An acoustic demo of the album’s title track was the only other bonus.)

George Harrison Dark Horse (1974)—
2014 Apple Years reissue: same as 1974, plus 2 extra tracks

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