Monday, 10 February 2014
George Harrison "Gone Troppo" (1982)
"My life's been oh so many ways, too much darkness gets me crazed, all around us people fight, Christ I'm looking for some light!, Inside your love, wake up my love and let me in" "There's a man talking on the radio what he's saying I don't really know, seems he's lost some stocks and shares, stops and stares, he's afraid I know, but that's the way it goes..." "There's an actor who hopes to fit the bill, sees a shining city on a hill, step up close and see he's blind, wined and dined, all he has is a pose, and that's the way it goes..." "There he, sitting in moonlight, not found - living no city, he smile mucho in sunshine, night life counting the fruit bat, this time you know I've gone troppo!" "They say I'm not the same as I used to be, all the same I'm happier than a willow tree, there's nothing I'd rather feel in this world, you and your sweet serenity rocking me, melting my heart away" "I know whatever we may have been in past times has sorted the true out from the rest, win or lose I always knew you'd be there, your answer my deepest prayer" , in a song shimmering slowhand simmering clear, moving me, melting my heart away" "Who have eyes will clearly see, and no one could disagree, a treasure of the world, a child watching it grow, and with all the love you bring unknown delight" "Oh Rye In Aye Eh Oh Rye In Aye Eh Oh Rye In Aye Key Oo Lay Kay La Ooh La We Oh Rye In Aye Eh Si Ah Ta Lee Aye Vee Show" "Waking while you're still deep sleeping, watching a dream appear" "Tumbling through a thousand centuries, you don't know where you'll land, it's so dark in mythology, treasures to be found, near the legends of time, all the handiwork remains there, only a dream away" "Greedy feeling, wheeling dealing, losing what you won, see the dream come undone" "Soul takes on a body with each birth we make our date, with life and death along the road the soul reincarnates, the show goes round and round in circles"
George Harrison "Gone Troppo" (1982)
Wake Up My Love/That's The Way It Goes/I Really Love You/Greece/Gone Troppo//Mystical One/Unknown Delight/Baby Don't Run Away/Dream Away/Circles
Modern technology has robbed us of a lot of negative analogies, but if you can bear with me and cast your mind back to a time when you had to wait to get your holiday snaps developed then you'll know how most fans feel about this album. Sure the holiday might have been fun when you were there, all sun sand and doing Spice Girls at the karaoke (what were you thinking?!) but somehow getting your pictures developed during a lunch break on a wet and miserable Wednesday on your second back to work all that jollity seems forced. Empty-headed. Reckless, even. What place does a close-up of your bleary-eyes face have in the real world except as a memory of something you can't remember happening anyway? Contrary to popular opinion most people don't like showing off their holiday photos out of nerves that they were having too much of a good time when you were not or that they're weren't having a good time and were afraid you were. 'Gone Troppo' is the musical equivalent of those holiday snaps, released during a happy time in George Harrison's life when music was the last thing on his mind in between all those holidays and all that gardening that needed to be done back home and he probably spent more time writing postcards in this period than he did on his music. In short, George has been having a party and we've not been invited, so the big question for many fans is, why are we clutching his musical holiday snaps in our hand instead of a 'proper' album?
That's been the question for many fans over the years who regular rate 'Gone Troppo' as one of the worst of all Beatle solo albums. That seems awfully unfair to an album that seems to have gone out of its way not to cause offence to anyone compared to days of old (there's only two brief mentions of God and both have been disguised as something else if you care to see them that way) and there's nothing on this album that's awful even if it a lot of it is rather bland by George's high standards. It's worth bearing in mind, too, that George released this album because he was made to rather than because he wanted to and in the circumstances who can blame him for writing a postcard not a book? (or a 'multi-volume collection' in ther case of 'All Things Must Pass'). To go back an LP, the relationship between George and record label Warner Brothers could best be described as 'difficult'. George had gone through the awkward process of being the first Beatle ever asked to 'change' one of his submitted albums when he'd first given the label 'Somewhere in England' (for the long long long saga behind this album please refer to our last Harrison post at http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/george-harrison-somewhere-in-england_20.html ). To add insult to injury the songs from that album fans seemed to like weren't the up-beat commercial songs Warners had insisted on including but the ones intact from the earlier version (the fact that Warners didn't get the 'joke' in opening tack 'Blood From A Clone' - a dig at contemporary music sounding all the same , which unbelievably was a track they loved and asked him for 'more of' when the album came out didn't help matters in George's eyes either). With only one album left on his contract neither party were likely to rock the boat too much this time around: George was already looking elsewhere and could technically have got away with releasing an avant garde album for the label or a collaboration with Ravi Shankar had he so wished: Warners must have breathed a sigh of relief when 'Gone Troppo' was submitted to them and turned out to be surprisingly 'normal' (to be fair to Warners, they'd paid a lot of money for George and not seen much return on their investment - worse still, they'd bought George's Dark Horse Record Label, a sort of Apple Mark II in the hope of buying future stars; in the end the only band anyone knows today is 'Splinter' and then only because George played on a few of their albums). What with all this fuss and the fact that George knew any future material would end up on a different label, it must have been in his head that he didn't want to give them anything 'good' and decided to escape from the trappings of the music business and simply enjoy himself, something he seems to have done comprehensively across 1982 and 1983 (which is why this album sounds like a postcard).
To continue the holiday photos analogy, George tried his hardest to keep these pictures to himself and the faithful. A combination of post-holiday blues and continued anger at Warner Brothers meant that George did something unthinkable in the commercial-mad 1980s: he did no publicity for this record whatsoever (the ever-faithful Beatles Book magazine were the only ones who bothered to cover it anywhere around the world and they couldn't get in touch with their 'star') and even mad passionate fans at the time didn't know it was out. In fact more than that, even those closest to George didn't know his album was out: legend has it George's own brother didn't know about when cobbled by the press for an interview about growing up with a Beatle, despite then living full-time with his brother as a 'second gardener' for George's Friar Park estate.
Ask the average Beatles fan about this album about this album and he'll either scratch his head about it or tell you it's terrible. The basic facts to seem to back this up: the album's ten tracks include such space-fillers as an instrumental (well, a song with only three muffled lines in the middle at least), a 1950s doo-wop cover, a song that had been intended for a film soundtrack album that never happened and an old rehashed leftover from decades earlier never thought good enough to release before. The 120 minute 'All Things Must Pass' this isn't and the themes of sunshine, tropical fever and, err, dwarfs who can travel across time stealing things can't compare to themes of life, death, uncertainty, fragility and God from ten years before. Given that 'England' had already died a commercial death, 'Gone Troppo' looks to fans who don't know about the Warner Brothers mess as if it's creator had temporarily, erm, 'Gone Troppo' (an Australian phase for 'gone mad' - goodness knows where George picked that expression up). Common wisdom perceives this album as the work of a part-time musician and a full-time gardener who couldn't care less.
However, I've always considered 'Gone Troppo' one of the most unfairly neglected of Beatles-related LPs. Even ex-Beatles deserve holidays and it's great fun for us to hear George with his hair down for once, happily married for the second time and taking time out before his son Dhani starts school (with shades of Lennon's house-husbandry) and no big musical demands on himself. It's not as if this album is pretending to be something it isn't: the fun holiday-postcard cover (drawn by Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band member 'Legs' Larry Smith in return for a song George 'wrote' about him on the 'Extra Texture' album) couldn't make it any clearer that this is a snapshot of time rather than a thoughtful magnum opus (like the music, the difference between the album covers for this and 'All Things Must Pass', all dark and sombre, couldn't be any better marked). The opening two tracks are every bit as deep, complex and intelligent as fans would have been expecting - and I'll even go further in saying that both 'Wake Up My Love' and 'That's The Way It Goes' are the last two absolutely classic Harri-songs released in George's lifetime (by a strange quirk of fate, both songs ended up at the start of the album, perhaps in an attempt to persuade us that this album is in fact deeper than it really is - although if that's true the decision to put a one-line doo wop cover straight afterwards undoes all that good work). And to quote from that list above, the fact that the instrumental passage is arguably the best place to hear George's characteristic guitar-work undiluted, the 1950s doo-wop song is a sweet throwback to a bygone era, the film soundtrack song could (and should) have been the single biggest hit of the 1980s and that the rehashed leftover is a 'White Album' Beatles outtake and 'Gone Troppo' starts to look more convincing. Which is not to say that 'Gone Troppo' is a long lost classic or even that it's one of his stronger LPs (it pales in comparison to the similar but deeper 'George Harrison' record of 1979 and can't quite match the patchy 'Somewhere In England' in either first or second version). But it's only a failure in commercial, not artistic terms: there are several great moments on this album and they catch you all the more by surprise because they suddenly appear out of nowhere on an album seemingly designed to be as simple as possible. I for one would take it over the commercial tinniness of next album 'Cloud Nine' any day, which makes the varied songs all sound the same and misses the humanity of this album, even though that album was a far bigger hit (although I seem to be alone among Harrison fans on that one). Far from being the 'runt of the litter' as so many reviewers re-appraised 'Gone Troppo' when the 'Dark Horse Years' box set came out, this album is that lovable puppy that isn't as well-behaved as his siblings but is impossible to love. Well, most of the time anyway ('I Really Love You' is quite a hard track to love if truth be known). Approach 'Gone Troppo' in the right spirit and it's a valuable insight into George on his days off from the music world. Oh and as a bonus the witty sleeve even gives you instructions on how to make cement, just in case you were wondering how it was done (thanks for that George...)
The good news too is that unlike most of our holiday snaps 'Gone Troppo' has dated rather well. We've been reviewing a lot of 1980s AAA albums on this site recently and time and again I seem to be repeating the same lines about 'how it would be great if only they'd got rid of the synthesisers but as it is I can't hear anything'. 'Troppo' isn't entirely synth free but the fact that George refused point-blank to compromise his style in the sakes of getting a 'hit' (like he had with 'Somewhere In England' and sadly will on 'Cloud Nine') means that this album is, ironically enough, more 'sellable' to modern ears than most albums out in the first half of the 1980s. Had Warner Brothers listened to George the first time round and given him his head, those 1980s LPs would be much more 'sellable' today. Which is not to say this album has an empty or lo-fi production either: it just sounds like all of George's 1970s records with the guitars back up to their rightful place in the front centre of the mix and a great variety of the best bass and drum session musicians around. 'Gone Troppo' might not be the best album released in the 1980s but it is about the purest, refusing to be mired in a bank of artificial keyboards and using real drums instead of those awful tinny things everyone else seemed to be using (even Macca isn't immune to this trend in the 1980s).
Of course there's one other big event in George's life which is both taking time away from his musical world and giving him peace of mind once again. All good fans will know that the story ends with a villain, a court case and a loss of face and finances, but for now George's movie production company 'Handmade Films' is a fairytale success, scoring hit after hit. The company was formed after close friend Eric Idle was commiserating with George over how the Monty Python had been left in the lurch making their 'Life Of Brian' film (someone at EMI Films had belatedly got round to reading the script and was horrified). Feeling a sense of camaraderie after having his music rejected, George offered to put up the money for the project and ended up with 'the most expensive cinema ticket in history'. What had started out as a one-off project suddenly blossomed: Handmade Films was the go-to production centre for controversial films no one else would make and for a time were 'in fashion'. George even got involved musically with a few of them (look out for him, Clapton and Ringo popping up in the finale to 'Water' and George did the soundtrack for the Madonna film 'Shanghai Surprise', although if you think 'Gone Troppo' was made up of leftovers that's nothing compared to what ended up on the film score - there never was a soundtrack album, thank goodness). All things must pass, however, and in time Handmade Films became a loss-making millstone around George's neck, milked for profit by unscrupulous people in the same way Apple had been 15 years before, the company disintegrating quickly in the late 1980s even by Hollywood standards.
Apart from 'Life Of Brian' and the rather curious 'Nuns On The Run' (think of 'Sister Act' with the characters in drag) the one big success of 'Handmade Films' was undoubtedly 'Time Bandits'. One of my all-time top favourite films, it's arguably the most 'George'-like of all the Handmade projects: Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin's script is full of irreverent Beatle humour, draws on influences across time, debates about ideas of fate and reincarnation with cameos by God and the devil (played by Ralph Richardson and David Warner in two bits of perfect casting), rants against the modern commercial world (the world wouldn't have been destroyed had the central lad, Kevin's parents listened to him instead of watching an alternate world version of QVC) and frequently pulling the rug under the feet of respected 'heroes' (Napoleon is cruel simply because he's short, while Robin Hood is played by John Cleese as a slightly deranged civil servant). The film was expected to be a flop, considered too cerebral for children and too silly for grown-ups (children's imaginations are always severely under-estimated when it come to films, of any era) and - like 'Gone Troppo' - was released as quietly as possible out of season (premiering in Winter rather than Summer, as per most children's films) in a hope to not lose too much money. Instead it was a monster hit, easily the biggest box office smash of 1982 until ET came along later in the year and plans were afoot for a soundtrack album despite the fact that soundtrack featured just one actual 'song', written by George for the closing credits and closely related to the 'plot' of the film (in as much as 'Time Bandits' had one). So popular was the project (and the song) that when the soundtrack album fell through George kept 'Dream Away' (Theme From Time Bandits') for himself and released it on 'Gone Troppo'. The album's one commercial track, star-studded with guests and upbeat tunes, it's the kind of thing Warner Brothers had been begging for in 1981 and should have been a single. It's a welcome addition to the 'Gone Troppo' album, but it's probably air to say it sounds woefully out of place in amongst so many quieter, less produced songs.
A quick mention too: we've already seen that 'Gone Troppo' is one of the rarer Harrison albums, delayed on CD till 2000, only a year before George's untimely death. It's still amongst his rarest of albums (certainly now that both Travelling Wilburys sets are available again after years of being out of print) but is at least more available now than it was. Sadly the Dark Horse re-issues were a bit of a lost opportunity for rounding up lost gems from the archives, but a handful of demos from that era did make their way out. The 'bonus demo' for 'Gone Troppo' is probably the most interesting of the bunch: an early version of 'Mystical One' which is less 1950s retro pop and more thoughtful and wistful, pulling on the occasional dark line in the song rather more than the finished version does. It's not really worth going out of your way to look for, though, if you own the original - well not unless you want a CD copy of the rest of the album, of course - and it's a shame more of George's 'Handmade' songs weren't added on the end (eg the performance in 'Water' or the Eric Idle collaboration 'The Pirate Song' from the beginning of the decade).
Overall, then, 'Gone Troppo' is a funny, sunny album. All the songs are in major keys barring 'Circles' (the Beatles outtake seemingly added to give long-term Beatles fans something to cheer), which is unusual for George (by contrast almost all of 'All Things Must Pass' are in minor keys). Usually, though, major keys suggest extrovertism and minor keys introvertism: true to his word as the 'quiet one' that isn't actually true here: only the urgent and unusually aggressive 'Wake Up My Love' and upbeat catchy 'Dream Away' sound like the kind of people who'd be life and soul at a party. For the most part this album is a laidback snooze fest, full of lines about the hot Greek sun, going on holiday and a metaphorical and musical shrug of the shoulders that 'that's the way it goes'. Yes George is distracted and unwilling to give away his best material, owing to a mix of record company hassles, family commitments, drugs (it's hard to trust most Harrison scholars, who seem to have it in for the guitarist for some reason, but most of them agree George's use of hard drugs sky-rocketed in this period for some reason) and the call of the beach. But even on auto-pilot George is too talented not to give us a handful of moments of genius and far from 'Going Troppo' this album might well see George at his most human, taking his place as part of the human race once again rather than as a seer, a religious preacher or a prophet. Far from being light and shadow, as with every other Harrison LP barring the poppy '33 and a Third' this album is 'here comes the sun' all the way through apart from the two songs that bookend the album and hint at something darker when the sun goes in.
All the best postcards start with the line 'Wish You Were Here' and that's exactly what the opening song 'Wake Up My Love' is all about. Waking up from his (possibly drug-fuelled) stupor ('too much darkness gets me crazed'), this is the spiritual side of George taking control and claiming that having fun might be all well in the short time but in the long term spiritual goals are all that matter. Only George has learned how to write these sort of songs now: in order not to put off his fanbase with the sort of spiritual finger-pointing of 'The Lord Loves The One That Loves The Lord' this song works just as well as a call to a strong partner, with the religious references cleverly doubling as swearing ('Oh lord!' Christ, I'm looking for some light!' - which in itself is quite an unusual Christianity reference for George). With more aggression and energy than the rest of the album put together, 'Wake Up My Love' is a clever, nagging song built around a relentless keyboard riff which seems to fins spiritual balm when the song resolves in the chorus but quickly finds itself caught up in the same old tired cycle of 'knocking' on the spiritual doors to keep in. Only the doors won't automatically open for the narrator every time he asks for forgiveness and the narrator secretly knows he deserves to have been cast out, desperate as he is to get in. The narrator even claims near the end that 'there's no sense in what I do' making the same mistake over and over - a thought that makes him reach out to his God/partner harder than ever (and you sense it's then, with that revelation, that the doors finally open to him). It's as if the guitarist has found himself caught in the 'trap' he always tried to persuade his audience of avoiding: of turning to spiritual awakening only after proving himself human and earthly; as a result, of all George's religious songs this is the easiest to relate to and the most 'human' (the sheer infectious joy of 'My Sweet Lord' being a special case). George will explore his contradictory modes even more thoroughly later in one of his final and most moving songs 'Pisces Fish' (on 'Brainwashed'), but this is his best song about trying to keep both the silly, frivolous, drug and party filled self and the deeply serious religious self satisfied (a Herculean task). Compared to the rest of the album this one sounds like the 'real' George, especially the howl of indignation around 2:30 when the song steps up another gear and cleverly unsettles us by staying at the insistent, hammering verses for a tiny bit longer than is comfortable. Whether intentionally or not, this is also the one song on here that Warner Brothers should have liked, being built like the songs written for the second half of 'Somewhere In England' to sound contemporary and commercial, although this song in no way dilutes the real 'George' along the way. Easily the best song on the album - and by some margin it has to be said - this song is generally seen as something of a failure, making only #54 in the US charts and missing the UK charts entirely. Bear in mind how reluctant George was to actually promote single or album, however and add in the fact that this single still did better business than the much-ballyhooed 'Teardrops' (Warner Brother's favourite of the 'more commercial' material George was asked to write for 'Somewhere In England') and suddenly it doesn't seem so bad. Certainly the song deserves better recognition, so wake up Beatle fanbase and let this song in.
It's a strange fact that the best songs on 'Gone Troppo' are all stacked at the beginning. 'That's The Way It Goes' is the album's even more buried gem, a slow stately philosophical beauty that's also among George's best work (certainly of this decade but possibly even his solo career as a whole). With a melody dripping with frustration and melancholia, this song is one long shoulder shrug about how life is pre-ordained and how it is not in our power to shape our lives sometimes. George may sound out of touch with the general world at times ('There's a man talking on the radio, what he's saying I don't really know') but this is actually one of George's most loving songs, sung with just the right balance of hope and understanding in the vocal. Each verse takes in different characters who only have in common the fact they are strangers in a strange land: the businessman confused as to why his stocks and shares have fallen, the man who thinks he can gain the 'promised land' by taking it with force not spiritual understanding (is this is a dig at the Jordan v Palestine wars over Bethlehem that have taken place regularly since the start of the 20th century?), an actor who doesn't know how to 'understand' the parts he plays and merely 'poses' and a final plead to George's audience (maybe himself too) that although we may not understand his lines about a spiritual 'fire', inwardly we all carry a flame however hidden. A better chorus than merely repeating the title might have made this song greater still, but this is still a moving piece - one that offers a far better understanding of the obstacles towards spirituality than the similar songs on 'Living In The Material World'. George is less grumpy here, simply resigned to the fact that in every generation some people have always been blind to what he sees as the truth and there's nothing he can do to change them. Musically this is more like George has always sounded, with his characteristic 'Hawaiian' guitar centre-stage, although there are some mysterious artificial sound effects going on right at the bottom end of the mix, sounding like a cross between a croaking frog and a jew's harp (was this George's sarcastic response to being made to write something 'modern' and 'commercial'?!) A real deep grown-up adult song, 'Goes' is another gem that seems out of place on this album of fun and sunshine and another that deserves a greater fan following (although George's friend and singer Joe Brown, for one, has always loved this song - he sang it at the 'Concert For George' tribute in 2002, although sadly it didn't make the final cut of the film).
Sadly 'I Really Love You' can't compare. In fact it's seemingly designed to take us by surprise, an almost note faithful revisitation of an obscure doo-wop song by The Stereos. Released in 1961 (and making #29 in the charts), it's not the kind of thing you can imagine the pre-fame Beatles listening to (though there are shades of 'Do You Want To Know A Secret?' in there) and isn't a natural fit for George's voice or character, leaving more than one fan scratching his head over why he chose to sing it as only his fourth ever cover song. George's take on the song is far closer to the original than any of his Hoagy Carmichael covers, 'Bye Bye Love' (where George re-wrote half the words to mirror Eric Clapton's affair with his wife Patti) or 'I've Got My Mind Set On You' (which is unrecognisable in George's hands) and the only real change is the move of the tack bar-room piano to the second half of the song. The undoubted star of the recording is not George at all but Willie Greene, who provides the authentic deep bass voice and even sings the lead on a couple of verses. The result sounds like a bit like 1970s Beach Boys: sincere as everyone sounds and as hard as everyone tries they simply can't re-create all that innocent 'fun' like they used to in the 1950s and the result sounds more than a little tongue-in-cheek even thought care and thought seems to have gone into making this production as straightforward as possible. The result isn't awful, just weird and this is now the third song in a row that doesn't really fit with the other songs here (well, five of them anyway - the closing two songs don't really 'fit' this album either...)
'Greece' seems like a final return to where the album should be going, even if it is in many ways an 'experiment' too. One of only three instrumentals or near-instrumentals in George's ouevre, it's paced somewhere between the bouncy 'Hari's On Tour' and the slow, graceful 'Marwa Blues'. A laidback sunkissed song dominated by lashings of guitar, this instrumental does a good job at capturing the feel of lazing in warm summer sunshine, with the song passing by without any urgency at all. Everyone assumes this song is a complete instrumental simply because they can't actually hear the words but no - in fact the words here are some of the most playful George ever wrote (sounding like a cross between a travelogue and the Rutles with more than a touch of John Lennon's 'In His Own Write'). A majority of the lyric websites I use don't even both to list them so here they are in full; watch for the puns on anything Greek near the end and the homage/plug for Monty Python now that George is truly a partner in their film franchise: "Half past Armenia, Down and towards the Med, Left side of Turkey, Nowhere near Fiji, You will find Greece, You may Athena, Handed on Plato, Hole in my Socrates, I came Acropolis, On Monty Pythagoras, Ulysses Greece". Most fans don't laugh at this song though: instead they simply lie back and enjoy the musical sunshine. Yes, alright, 'Greece' is hardly the sort of song that matches up to 'Wake Up My Love' never mind 'All Things Must Pass' and like many instrumentals (or near-instrumentals) is simply a lazy substitute for writer's block. However, at least 'Greece' is quite a pretty substitute for writer's block and is a good chance for George to show off his guitar-playing.
'Gone Troppo' the title track is maybe taking the joke a bit too far. Picking up on the guitar riff from 'Greece' but speeding it up a little, this is an eccentric punning joke that sounds like it was made up for laughs on holiday. You can imagine this song being inspired by George's attempts to keep his native tongue 'simple' while on holiday and he speaks in pidgin English throughout, an effect that's mildly irritating and makes Harrison sound like an extra from Fawlty Towers. To be fair, some of the lyrics are funny (once!) with references to 'brown skin - very a-peeling' and lots of the sorts of images of the sort of thing that are always heard in these quasi-calypso songs ('fruit bats' and 'papayas'). There are lots of clues to George's other past-times too: this must surely be the only English pop song to reference the Australian 'Moreton Bay Fig Tree' (Ficus Macrophyllia), while 'Helicona' and 'Rain Hill' appear to refer to the very different tourist destinations in, err, Puerto Rico and St Helens, Merseyside (was George on a visit to some relation to show off his new baby?) The song's sunshiney riff is quite enjoyable too, though I have to say that's bordering on irritating now I've just heard this song four times in a row (no wonder George named this song after a colloquialism for madness!) Again, it's a shame this song is here rather than some tortured deep confession but at least George offers us an atmospheric glimpse of the fun he's having on this track and this title song is not without its charms. By the way, listen out for the boat whistle at 1:38 by the way, which is mixed so extreme right that I'm still convinced a nautical vessel is about to enter my living room whenever I play this song on headphones!
'Mystical One' kicks off the album's second side and is more what we've come to expect from George after the last two albums. Thisis clearly another love song for second wife Olivia and even features a return of the balaikas from George's first love song for her 'My Dark Sweet Lady' (though born in Mexico, Olivia lived everywhere before coming to America as an adult - though George may be aping the sounds of Jamaica here for his wife of five years whose middle name is in fact 'Trinidad'). As if sensing that 'Gone Troppo' isn't his deepest album, George gets all defensive here, claiming that he deserves this 'happy' period in his life even though 'they say I'm not what I used to be'. Interesting it's not George himself whose the 'mystical one' as you might expect but his loved one (surely Olivia) whose 'raincloud eyes' 'melt my heart away'. Listen out, though, for two sly lines that seem to be saying something different: George tells us in the second line with laughter in his voice that he's as happy as 'a willow tree'. Aren't willow trees meant to be unhappy?! (is this a joke to check if we're listening, a hint at something darker or George's take that all plants are happy whatever our human associations with them?) Stranger still is the second verse, which ends up much like the first with notions of meeting in a 'past life' and 'answering my prayers', only to end with the line 'in a song, shimmering slowhand flowing clear'. 'Slow hand' is a nickname close friend (and love rival) Eric Clapton earned long before he even met George and surely can't refer to anything else. is this second verse meant for Eric then? If so then George's claim to have met in a 'past life' is a fascinating one (were they Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony, with Patti Boyd as Cleopatra one wonders?) and his comments genuinely kind and supportive given that less than a decade before Eric had run off with George's wife (for all his comments about staying friends and supporting the decision you can hear the pain in that year's songs, especially 'So Sad' and a sarcastic cover of 'Bye Bye Love'). Perhaps this song is a gesture of forgiveness towards Eric, claiming that now that George is so happy with Olivia his friend's betrayal actually did him a favour? Either way, 'Mystical One' is a clever and heartfelt lyric but like many of the 'Somewhere In England' tracks the melody is lightweight by comparison and tries to turn what should be a sweet and caring song into a comic breeze, a million miles away from 'mystical'. This melody line is sillier even than 'Gone Troppo' with its patter-song feel and only really catches fire in the middle eight ('I know what I am..'): frustratingly the best bit of this song is over in the space of about ten seconds. A bit of a disappointment this one: doubly so if you come to it after reading the lyric sheet first. I actually prefer the demo version of this song which placed the emphasis much more on the lyric than the music.
'Unknown Delight' is another soppy love ballad and is even more like 'My Dark Sweet Lady'. This time it's undoubtedly just Olivia that inspired this song and like all the best solo Beatle love songs before this one (Lennon's 'Love' and McCartney's 'Maybe I'm Amazed') Harrison seizes not on the 'known' describable things about his lover but the unknown things. Loving the contradictions in his second wife more than in himself, George praises Olivia's mixture of stability and her ability to surprise him, before going on to praise her innocence and adult ways (giving birth to a baby, 'a treasure of the world') and the way she manages to be loved by everyone but has a special relationship with only George. The Beatle still sounds in shock at having such perfection fall into his lap, spending the whole of the song in a state of dreamy hazy shock. Again this song is very repetitive and manages to say all it needs to say in the opening few bars: but then so do other love songs written by George, with 'Something a good example. Indeed there are more than a few similarities between the two, suggesting that George was actively looking to his old song for inspiration and wanted to update it for his new love (you can hear this particularly in the guitar solo, which plays the first couple of phrases of the guitar part in 'Something'). On the plus side, the melody is much more fitting than on the last track and George is clearly writing and singing this song from the heart (the chuckle in his voice is particularly gorgeous). On the negative side, there's no real hook here and the song doesn't really stay in the memory once the next track comes on, not quite having the grace and poise of 'Something' which might or might not be the best song on 'Abbey Road' but is still the song you're humming an hour after playing the album.
'Baby Don't Run Away' is something of a curio. A very traditional sounding chord structure and simple lyrics suggest this could have been another spoof doo wop song or maybe an early glimpse at the retro rock pioneered by the Travelling Wilburys. There's no way Jeff Lynne would have allowed this production through though: it's all gulping sweeping synthesisers and George's vocal is buried in the mix by a guesting 1970s soul legend Syreeta Wright (once married to Billy Preston if you're wondering how she got involved on an ex-Beatle's album!) In fact George doesn't sound like himself at all, singing along with an electronically adapted double that suggests he's been listening to Neil Young's contemporary album 'Trans' a little too much. Had George adapted one of his more modern, commercial songs like this the results could have been great ('Teardrops' or 'Blood From A Clone' maybe?) but here it sounds like an unnecessary quirk to make a rather slow and dull song more interesting. Perhaps, though, this song's unusual production values are to hide the fact that the lyrics don't really hang together: one minute George's narrator is pleading 'baby don't go' in a minor key, the next the song has magically resolved to the major and he's talking about the magical day they met ('sat alone with the stars and the moon', in a line that's a dead ringer for many on the 'George Harrison' collection of songs about how George and Olivia fell in love). Is this song a hybrid of two leftovers that George couldn't get to work in their own right? If so I'm tempted to see the 'chorus' as being about Patti (circa the 'Dark Horse' period 1974?) and the 'verse' as being about Olivia (circa 1979?) Certainly the result sounds like a bit of a space-filler to me, as if George has realised the album is running short and has been rummaging through his tape-vaults. Again, the results aren't quite as bad as everyone seems to think - the melody is strong (if woefully slow) and the production ideas are certainly striking (and very unusual for George) - but 'Baby Don't Run Away' is ultimately nothing we haven't heard done better several times over sadly.
'Dream Away', the song played over the end title of 'Time Bandits', then breezes in unexpectedly and banishes all the album's minor key melodies and shrugs of the shoulders in one glorious cry of 'Oh Rye In Aye Eh' nonsense that sounds not unlike the gibberish on Lennon's '#9 Dream' (Lennon himself claimed it was gibberish by the way, that's not me being rude - the lines came to him in a 'dream' and he spent days trying to decipher them before realising they didn't mean anything!) That's fitting because this song too is about dreaming - it's hinted that the entire plot of 'Time Bandits' might well be 'just a dream', but if it is it's weirder even than mine and the song is keen to emphasise that, however mundane and ordinary our lives, the film's events are only a 'dream away' for us too. Watch out for the lines about 'waking while you're still deep sleeping'. Understanding this song helps if you know the film really well as all the verses relate to something, somewhere in the plot although George has taken a loose, scattershot approach to the script rather than telling us the story in detail or any strict order. Given the amount of work involved in this song's production and the short timeframe given to shooting the film (which everyone involved from director Terry Gilliam seemed to assume was going to be a flop) it's likely George wrote 'Dream Away' without seeing much of the film, if any - if so it's amazing how well he captures the spirit of fun-with-danger-lurking that's at the heart of the script. George, of course, was well practised in writing to time after his sterling work on 'Wonderwall' back in 1968 and had a real knack for getting the 'essence' of a film in his work. Taking vague impressions of scenes in the film, 'Dream Away' doesn't give away the story but tells the script in a series of flashbacks, 'tumbling through a thousand centuries' with 'treasures of history to be found'. George even gets in a characteristic dig at material greed in his verse about 'seeing the dream come undone' when the 'time bandits' steal Napoleon's treasure. 'Dream Away', then, is arguably the best of his small handful of songs written as 'pure pop' and nothing else, with a catchy (and very 1960s) pop hook and lyrics that manage to be vaguely intriguing to those who don't know the film at all. What it's doing stuck here at the end of a record about the inner self on holiday is another matter - perhaps this song should have been a stand alone single? (With George's song from the Handmade Film 'Water' on the back of it?!)
The album then ends on its saddest moment with 'Circles', a song that was actually written during the Beatles' time in India in 1968 (when George, particularly, went on a bit of a writing spree). A demo for the song does exist and is a bootleg regular, but so far hasn't had an official release yet. A moody ballad with the same hazy disorientating landscape as 'Blue Jay Way', 'Circles' sounds more like a poem set to music than a song and contains what was for George in 1968 strangely sad and bitter lyrics. Pre-empting Eric Clapton's betrayal in 1973, George imagines friends coming and going out of his life as his opinion of them changes, finding even the people he once considered enemies becoming friends and vice versa (is this an early sign of discontent within the Beatles? It might explain why the Let It Be sessions in January 1969 were quite so fraught). With the theme of circles in our minds George inevitably turns to karma and reincarnation for the last verse, imagining us going round and round our lives. George is noticeably sadder about this fact than on any other song on this theme though, as if he knows he'll only be going through the same cycles of trust and betrayal in another body. Predictably the song structure itself goes round in 'circles', always arriving back at the same point, only breaking out into one glorious middle eight burst of sunshine ('He who knows does not speak...') From what I've written 'Circles' sounds like a song with a lot of emotional investment, but that's not how George plays or sings it here: he sounds half-asleep at times with only a swirly organ, a tack piano and his own guitar for company. There's one song from George's canon that shares this song's strange mixture of anger and detachment: 'Not Guilty', another Beatles leftover from 1968 that George revisited later on (for the 'George Harrison' album in 1979). We said in our review of that song that so much had changed in the intervening 11 years that George's bitterness about the Apple years and his public persona of 'making friends with every Sikh' had been transformed into a distant memory, sung with a knowing adult wisdom the 25-year-old George didn't possess. What strikes you about 'Circles' is how close the 1983 version is to the one from 15 years before, with only a rather glossy production shine on top. George sounds as lost as he ever did in his youth and sings the song with the same dash of sadness, as if he's still making all the same mistakes. The result is a song that's rather hard to read and even harder to like, with that rather patronising preaching George lapses into every so often. However the lyrics are clever, the metaphor of going round pointlessly in circles being well used and you sense that George had an understanding of reincarnation much deeper than the simple lectures the Maharishi gave. The sudden appearance of this song after such a long gap may point to a lack of other ideas, but 'Circles' is a song worth revisiting and like 'Not Guilty' it's surprisingly that a song this good was a) passed over in the 1960s in favour of lesser compositions like 'Savoy Truffle' and 'Piggies and b) that George never returned to the song before this. You have to say, though, that 'Circles' seems to fit even less into the happy groove of 'Gone Troppo' than songs like 'I Really Love You' and 'Baby Don't Run Away', even if the theme makes for a neat repeat of the one in 'Wake Up My Love', which is arguably the more memorable of the two about going round in 'circles'.
Overall, then, it's easy to see why 'Gone Troppo' has never had that much praise from fans. The songs require a lot of work from listeners and doesn't seem to have involved as much work as normal from George, who as we've seen had good reason not to care as much as normal about this record. But George simply has too much talent not to give us total rubbish: every song on this album, even the lesser moments like 'I Really Love You' 'Mystical One' and 'Baby Don't Run Away' have something going for them and every fan with an interest in one of the many sides of George will delight in the spiritual honesty of 'Wake Up My Love', the gorgeous melody of 'That's The Way It Goes' or the glossy pop of 'Dream Away'. Of course being pulled in that many directions does not an album make and had George not been in such dispute with Warner Brothers he might well have cobbled together a more cohesive album about the sunshine that's clearly the central theme on this album. 'Gone Troppo' is clearly the work of a part-time musician as so many fans have said down the years, but that's no surprise: with a new family and a film production company George's music was always going to take a backseat compared to the days of old. The surprise is that, given the circumstances, 'Gone Troppo' is as good and enjoyable a listen as it is: for me the album sits neck and neck with either version 'Somewhere In England', an album that had much more time, care, revisions and money spent on it than this one. 'Troppo' may be a 'postcard' in comparison to the usual 'novels' George wrote per album across his solo career, but the opening two tracks alone still contain more depth and passion than most of the things being released by George's peers. Sadly 'Troppo' will end up being George's last release for five years and whatever you think of his music when it returns as the all-singing all-dancing commercial 'Cloud Nine' this is the end of an era, as George's two albums following this (four if you count the Travelling Wilburys discography) has a far more polished, less George-like sound than before. 'Gone Troppo' might not be a long lost classic that's worthy on every track and it pales in comparison to old and even semi-recent classics like 'George Harrison', but this little postcard is still quite a 'trip' and has far more longevity and interest than the average holiday snap. Overall rating - 6/10
Other George Harrison reviews from this site you might be interested in reading:
'Wonderwall Music' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/george-harrison-wonderwall-music-1968.html
'All Things Must Pass' (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-42-george-harrison-all-things.html
'Living In The Material World' (1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/news-views-and-music-issue-58-george.html
'Dark Horse' (1974) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/news-views-and-music-issue-127-george.html
'George Harrison' (1979) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-74-george-harrison-1979.html
‘Somewhere In England’ (1981) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/george-harrison-somewhere-in-england_20.html