Wednesday, September 16, 2009

George Harrison 11: Cloud Nine

Nowadays, five years between albums isn’t that big a stretch; in the ‘80s, it seemed like an eternity. But in the year of the first Beatle CDs, twenty years after Sgt. Pepper, surprise! George was recording again, with the guy from ELO, of all people. Suddenly he was everywhere, sporting fashionable stubble and snazzy shirts and jackets.
We worried over the sound of the album, but we needn’t have. The very first note of the title track is the slide guitar that we’d been missing, over a slow groove with pseudo-philosophical lyrics. Ringo’s probably playing the drums, which are buried under Jeff Lynne’s production. “That’s What It Takes” is fairly ordinary, but already our toes are tapping. There’s a definite joy in his voice that continues over the rest of the album. “Fish On The Sand” is a poppy one, with a twangy retro 12-string pushing it along. “Just For Today” is the only remotely religious one, and nice on the first listen, but plodding afterwards. “This Is Love” was co-written with the producer, and sounds like it. “When We Was Fab” got all the attention the first time, and it’s still a wonderful homage to the Pepper era, and all the nostalgic rage at the time. Jeff Lynne finally has an excuse to use Ringo’s “Walrus” drum sound, and George matches his wistful recollections with well-placed Pythonesque humor. It’s a track that reveals new things on each listen, such as the sitar at the fade and the backing vocals throughout. This one redeems the side.
George goes back to his grouchy mode for “Devil’s Radio”, but it’s dressed up in such a rocking sound that he doesn’t seem at all preachy. “Someplace Else” provides a nice change of pace, with a sweet lyric and great guitar lines. “Wreck Of The Hesperus” is the obligatory “I’m not old and washed up” statement, but wrapped in obscure references that don’t intrude on the fun. “Breath Away From Heaven” was a refugee from the previous year’s cinematic adventure with Mr. and Mrs. Sean Penn, and has nice Oriental touches to make it interesting. The album closes with “Got My Mind Set On You”, an obscure, maddeningly repetitive cover that amazingly went to #1 on the pop charts. (To these ears, it still sounds like he’s singing, “Look out, I might sit on you.”) Maybe it was the two videos that helped; we preferred the one where “George” puts down his guitar and does a backflip off of his chair.
Like any good icon, George waited until he had something to say before saying it. Cloud Nine was such a nice surprise at the time, especially since we didn’t expect much. As with other albums from that year, some of the production touches have not aged well, but when you tune them out and concentrate on his voice, it’s still worth it. And in a big Beatle year, it was great to know he still cared. It sure was nice to have him around again. Little did we know how much more we’d be hearing from that Jeff Lynne character.

George Harrison Cloud Nine (1987)—
2004 Dark Horse Years reissue: same as 1987, plus 2 extra tracks


  1. >> There’s a definite joy in his voice

    I wish I could enjoy work as much as you can hear George enjoying the “work” on this album. It’s good to hear a person with known grump tendencies having fun. “But I can rock as good as Gibraltar?” $20 says he howled with laughter at how clever and corny he was when he came up with that one because it shows George being uniquely George. Which I suppose could be said for the entire album from the lyrics to the guitar work and everything in between.

    And a stuffed squirrel playing a pipe like it's a sax in the same video as a George Harrison floor routine? That's gold, Jerry. Gold.

    It’s a good album. Not great or important, which he did once, but not bad or forgettable, which he did more than once. Just a good album and a pleasant surprise given what came before it.


  2. "The album closes with “Got My Mind Set On You”, an obscure, maddeningly repetitive cover that amazingly gave George his first #1 on the pop charts."

    I thought George was the first solo Beatle to get a #1 pop chart hit with his "My Sweet Lord". Didn't "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth" also hit #1?

    BTW Your reviews are a great pleasure to read. I'm slowly working my way through them and enjoying every minute of it.


  3. You are correct -- it was his third. An amendment is in order.

    Thanks for the kind words -- please keep reading!