Wednesday, February 18, 2009

George Harrison 9: Somewhere In England

Just when George seemed to be enjoying himself, things went wrong. First, Warner Bros. rejected his original lineup for his new album, Somewhere In England, saying it wasn’t commercial enough. Then John died. He certainly had a right to be grumpy this time, and as a result, the mood permeates the tone of the finished product, obliterating the good vibes from the last album.
“Blood From A Clone” puts the crux of the argument front and center, with backing that’s supposed to be contemporary. (Hey, they asked for it.) “Unconsciousness Rules” continues the dopey dance idea, with lyrics that skewer the genre. The melody for “Life Itself” brings the first enjoyable track here, but the words aren’t much more than a hymn in the tradition of “It Is He”. With different lyrics and easier meter it could have been a single. “All Those Years Ago” was the first musical statement by any Beatle after December 8th, and it’s pretty direct if a little forced. George pays tribute without suppressing any of his anger so it works. Paul, Linda and Denny supposedly sing backup, and Ringo’s on drums to keep it all in the family. “Baltimore Oriole” is the first of two old Hoagy Carmichael tunes here; by putting his own stamp on it, it’s surprisingly one of the most enjoyable songs on the album.
“Teardrops” starts off the second side, sounding exactly like Elton John’s early ‘80s stuff. This wasn’t on the first version of the album, leading us to think it was new. The dour words don’t match the tune at all. It seems a little odd to have something this radio-friendly coming from George, especially at this point. “That Which I Have Lost” annoyingly mixes a cowboy melody with a music hall swing, while the words seem to refer to Bob Dylan’s recent Christian conversion. “Writing’s On The Wall” is laid-back and pleasant, yet repetitive and forgettable. Originally the opening track on the original sequence, “Hong Kong Blues” is the lesser Hoagy Carmichael song here. It all finally ends with “Save The World”, where George takes his sermonizing to tell his heathen fans to be nicer to the environment. There are nice passages here that don’t coalesce, along with some hilarious sound effects, and you can just barely hear a track from Wonderwall Music on the fade.
If Warners didn’t like the first version, it’s safe to say they only approved this one to cash in on the post-murder hype. (The replaced songs would all officially, if briefly, surface on CDs packaged with expensive leather-bound limited editions of his lyrics, as well as on some B-sides, but sadly, not on the album’s posthumous reissue.) But after the quality of the previous album, we were back to wondering why he bothered making records if he couldn’t enjoy the process. Another footnote: in at least one interview before his death, John complained about how George remembered every “two-bit guitar player he’d ever met” in his autobiography I Me Mine, but didn’t spend more than two words on him. George did make sure to include a dedication on the inner sleeve of Somewhere In England, even going so far as to use John’s preferred initials. So there.

George Harrison Somewhere In England (1981)—
2004 Dark Horse Years reissue: same as 1981, plus 1 extra track

6 comments:

  1. why do you say that paul and ringo were "supposedly" on the album? is there doubt?

    dick

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  2. Ringo's playing drums. It's the backing vocals that, while credited to Paul et al, sound pretty generic as to be just about anybody.

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  3. why does it seems that george and ringo got along? did they, in fact, or was it more calculating than that?

    dick

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  4. George was the one who pushed for Ringo to join the band. They were always friends, and remained so throughout their lives.

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  5. I was disappointed that the 2004 reissue didn't include as bonus tracks the songs that George had originally intended to be on the album. You mention that "Hong Kong Blues" was initially slated to be the opening track. Do you know the original track listing for the album that George first presented to WB?
    Thanks.

    Geoff

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  6. The original track listing is right up there at the Wikipedia link. After all, if it's in Wikipedia, it must be true...

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