(This review of George Harrison’s 1981 solo album is edited from the review which originally appeared on my old Angelfire site, somewhere around 2007.)
I went back and forth between whether this album deserved 4 stars or 3.5 stars, but I finally decided that, while it’s not really some great classic, it’s not too shabby either. One should judge an album for what it is, not what it isn’t. Yes, it was severely compromised by Warner Brother Records, what with having a different track listing, different cover art, the rewriting of several songs, and the dropping of four songs (“Flying Hour,” “Lay His Head,” “Sat Singing,” and “Tears of the World”), but as it stands, this is the album that was the end product.
“Blood from a Clone” is a really fun, punchy rocker, and it becomes even more awesome knowing it’s so giving the finger to the record company. It’s amazing they actually approved such a song, with so many obvious digs at the music business and its pressure on artists to conform to whatever was hip at the moment. Oh well, maybe they were too obtuse to get the joke.
The next track, “Unconsciousness Rules,” is pure filler and pretty unmemorable. On the original track listing, though, it came a bit later on the album; perhaps it sounds better when it’s not the second track.
Next up is “Life Itself,” a truly beautiful song. It starts out feeling like a love song to Olivia, but then it becomes obvious it’s really a love song to the Divine. I love the universal line, “They call you Christ, Vishnu, Buddha, Jehovah, Our Lord, you are Govindam, Bismillah, Creator of all.”
Next up on the docket is the hit single “All Those Years Ago,” which of course is a tribute to John. It was actually written before he was murdered, but after the tragic event, it was rewritten somewhat to reflect the tragedy. As an added bonus, the other two surviving Beatles also played on the song. It’s fun, upbeat, catchy, and hook-laden, although the lyrics don’t quite match the music, and it’s kind of a juxtaposition for such a sad event to be covered in such an upbeat song.
Side one concludes with a Hoagy Carmichael song, “Baltimore Oriole,” which is rather dark, both lyrically and musically. Never having heard the original, I can’t say if this version does it any justice, though a lot of people hold it as one of the standouts.
Side two opens with “Teardrops,” which, like numerous other songs on here, is very synth-heavy. It’s very catchy and fun, although, like “All Those Years Ago,” it seems a bit off for a rather melancholy subject to be covered in such an upbeat song. And while I’m not one of those people who likes to pigeonhole artists and then complain when they evolve or try something new, it just doesn’t sound like the type of song George is known for. As someone on Amazon mentioned, it sounds like an unholy collaboration between Paul and Elton John!
“That Which I Have Lost” and “Writing’s on the Wall” are more familiar territory, touching on sociopolitical and spiritual matters, although strangely have exactly the opposite message. The message of the former is “You need someone to show you/Illumine your consciousness/Remove the dark from you/And give you that which you have lost,” while the latter’s message is “The writing’s on the wall, brothers/Your life is in your hands/It’s up to you to see the writing’s on the wall.”
After these two songs is another Hoagy Carmichael cover, “Hong Kong Blues,” which is pretty catchy and upbeat, though again, it’s just not the type of song George is known for singing. Originally, it was to have been the lead-off track.
The album finishes off with “Save the World,” a surprisingly upbeat track for being about such a serious subject, with lines about whales being killed, bombs in outer space, rainforests being destroyed, and people being sold plutonium. However, it’s not without touches of dark, quirky humour, what with lines like “We’ve got to save the world./Someone else may wanna use it” and “We’re at the mercy of so few/With evil hearts determined to/Reduce this planet into hell/Then find a buyer make quick sale.”
Given the circumstances behind this album’s long creation and birth process, and just the era in general, it holds up pretty well. If only more artists’ less-than-perfect albums could be so solid and enjoyable. This album has enough good material to elevate it above mediocrity.