Monday, 13 October 2014

George Harrison "Brainwashed" (2002)

"You pay your fare, and if you don't know where you're going then any road will take you there" I keep travelling around the bend, there is no beginning there is no end, it wasn't born and it never dies, there are no edges there are no sides" "How come no one really noticed? Puff of white smoke knocked me out! The truth is hiding, lurking, banking, things they do at night" "I'm a pisces fish and the river runs through my soul" "There's a temple on an island, I think of all the Gods and what they feel, you can only find them in the deepest silence, I've got to get off this big wheel" "Sometimes my life it seems like fiction, some of the days it's really quite serene, I'm living proof of all life's contradictions, one half's going where the other half's just been" "Every word you've uttered and every thought you had, is all inside your file - the good and the bad" "I was almost a statistic inside a doctor's case, when I heard the messenger from inner space, he was sending me a signal that for so long I had ignored, but he held on to my umbilical cord, until the ghost of memory trapped in my body mind, came out of hiding to become alive" "Universe at play inside your DNA, you're a billion years old today" "Never been so crazy, never felt so sure, I wish I had the answer to give, but I don't even have the cure!" "Lonely days, blue guitar, there's no escape, can only run so far" "The soul does not love - it is love itself. It does not exist - it is existence itself. It does not know - it is knowledge itself" "A voice cried out in the wilderness, it was on the lowest night, an eternity of darkness, someone turned out the spiritual light"

George Harrison "Brainwashed" (2001)

Any Road/P2 Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night)/Pisces Fish/Looking For My Life/Rising Sun/Marwa Blues//Stuck Inside A Cloud/Run So Far/Never Get Over You/Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea/Rocking Chair In Hawaii/Brainwashed

"Music is not just music, it is love itself. Music does not just exist, it is existence itself. Music does not just know, it is knowledge itself. Reviews do not just review, it is writing itself. How to know Max The Singing Dog, page 130" (Alan's Album Archives Manual 40th edition printed 3002)

"They brainwash you while you in your childhood and throughout your lives, they brainwash you while you're reading reviews on Alan's Album Archives, They brainwashed Alan's Album Archives into calling this a job, they even got my grandma before she turned into Max The Dog" (Alan's Album Archives Expose: What Really Went On Under Max The Dog's Hat, printed 3502)

Give me plenty of that guitar...

'Brainwashed' will forever be associated with George Harrison's sad death at the age of 59 from throat cancer. Released a year to the day since his sad end, 'Brainwashed' became the second ever posthumous Beatles album (following John Lennon's 1982 album 'Milk and Honey'), by rights it should be the best-selling album in George's back catalogue - released to a big media blitz and co-inciding with a deeply moving tribute concert featuring Paul, Ringo and Eric Clapton, it seemed that George's time had come at last. Those who heard this album before rushing out and buying it though were largely surprised:  while few reviews were bad or even indifferent to this album, it just doesn't seem to be what people were expecting it to be. Naturally, assumed by many fans to be a last will, testament and farewell from a musician and man who gave so much - especially after learning that George had been poorly for a couple of years and with media reports of the feverish work George put into making this album before he died still very recent. However George's more languid pace of work in the second half of his career meant that 'Brainwashed' is actually an album with one of the longest gestation periods of them all in the AAA (some 14 years from 1988 to 2002). By rights it's the album that should have come out after 'Cloud Nine' in 1987 had life, court cases, Beatle reunions and The Travelling Wilburys not got in the way (this is essentially the record George started mentioning as far back as 1989, when it was titled 'Portrait Of A Leg End' and came with a picture of a foot! He later joked in 2000 when pressed about his next LP that it would be called 'The World Is Doomed - Part One'!) Most of the people who bought 'Brainwashed' wanted this to be more than just another very-good-but-not-great George Harrison album; they wanted a record that would help soothe their tears and help them cope with life without George. After all, Harrison wrote about death more than perhaps anyone else in popular music (or at least natural death and what might happen next - I guess a few heavy metal rockers beat him in terms of describing murders and things!) and his 'All Things Must Pass' album - undergoing a renaissance in fortunes thanks to a timely CD re-issue in the Millennium - is one of the greatest song cycles about death and re-birth ever written (starting with the title track). People needed comfort. People needed hope. People needed to know George was at peace. People needed another 'All Things Must Pass'. Instead what they got was an album that finds George more troubled and unsure of himself than perhaps at any other time in his career: 'Wish I could have the answer but don't even have the cure' he sings apologetically at one stage, as if he knows how the impression this album is going to give.

While many of the songs do date from later when George was ill (the title track and 'Marwa Blues' for two), an awful lot of these songs date from the late 1980s and early 1990s when George was feeling a little lost. The surprise hit singles and hit album of 1987 had temporarily made George a superstar again, a situation he had fought tooth and nail to escape the first time and didn't want to return to. While many think of George as the most 'mystical' of The Beatles, he was in many ways also the most grounded  (just listen to 'Taxman'!) and the one most likely to start doubting himself when told over and over again how popular he was. A hit album with The Travelling Wilburys only escalated things (unsure of how it would do Warner Brothers spent a lot of time publicising their first album as well, although second album 'volume three' was a far more understated affair). However, this time George didn't even get to enjoy the riches of his success: a long-standing court case against business partner and longterm friend Denis O'Brien over money that he had been taking from their company Handmade Films was finally settled in George's favour but exhausted him more than he perhaps let on to the media and the betrayal hit him hard. Reports vary, but George's acceptance of 'The Beatles Anthology' (a project he'd been veto-ing on and off since 1972) in the mid-1990s may only have been to recover the losses from this period and Harrison wasn't quite as enthusiastic over the project as Paul and Ringo (although George actually gives better interviews than either).  The awful night at the end of 1999 when intruder Michael Abram broke into the Harrison's Friar Park house and stabbed George, aiming to kill him (he would have succeeded if wife Olivia hadn't hit him over the head with a table-lamp) was a violent end to a rather troubled decade (asked  by the press if he was an intruder, George quipped 'Well, I don't think he was auditioning for the Travelling Wilburys!') Understandably, there are lots of lyrical references to things going wrong, to being in a 'mess', to being hoodwinked, to being 'brainwashed' : 'There's no way out, can only run so far' the album sighs as if trapped in from every side. Had George resurrected 'Not Guilty' (his song of betrayal and bitterness from the 'White Album' and released on 'Anthology Three') a third time I wouldn't have been surprised.

Religion was usually George's escape and source of inspiration in troubled times and there indeed more 'Gods' per line than any Harrison record since 'Extra Texture' (1975). However, this isn't the certain album of a devout believer the way that 'My Sweet Lord' and 'The Lord Loves The One That Loves The Lord' were - many of these songs have the narrator as lost and alone, 'stuck', crying out for direction and purpose and wondering perhaps for the first time if there really is anyone up there ('Vatican P2 Blues' is an attack on the Christian Church rather than religion per se, but it's the first song knocking any form of religion George had made and sounds oddly out of place in the context of all his other songs). Could it be that George also had the stabbing incident in the back of his mind (and, possibly, Lennon's 19 years earlier) when he wrote some of these songs, when - in a mirror of The Bible - he'd chanted and prayed to God to be saved only for his attacker to keep on coming. You would have thought, after all those wonderful sure songs, that George would face death happier than most other people, but till 1999 (shortly before the diagnosis) death was an abstract concept; you can forgive George for being more ruffled about his attitude to the next life when he came so close to ending up there before his time. However that makes for an interesting dialogue in his songs we've never heard before and one that would have been fascinating to hear work itself out across the next couple of albums: was this a temporary blip, forced upon George by circumstances that would have troubled anyone? Or would this have been the start of something deeper and more pressing? Compared back to back with the confident, almost aggressive 'Cloud Nine' or the Travelling Wilburys albums (admittedly made purely for fun rather than deep messages) the difference is one of the biggest across any two AAA albums, a man falling from 'Cloud Nine' to the depths of hell. While 'Brainwashed' noticeably ends in a prayer asking God to 'lead us from this mess' (suggesting that Harrison hasn't lost all his faith just yet), George also seems to point the finger that this mess could all have been solved easily in the first place and for the first time has doubts about a faith he's been promoting in song and in his actions for the better part of 35 years.

Doubt is the album's big theme, but there are others. Remember when we said that George was the most 'mystical' and yet the most 'grounded' of the Beatles? That could apply to any of George's albums (even 'The White Album' damned us to hell with 'Piggies' and saved our souls in 'Long Long Long' a mere 12 songs apart), but especially to this one. 'Duality' is a big theme for George, something which he explores head on in 'Pisces Fish' for the first time. One of several rather good AAA songs covering astrology (Stephen Stills' 'Fishes and Scorpions' and The Beach Boys' 'Funky Pretty' are two others), it deals with the fact that Pisceans tend to be the most varied sign in the zodiac: split between great poets painters and musicians and murderers and politicians, most people who have this sign say they are 'pulled in two', 'one half going where the other half's just been' as George puts in the song (Johnny Cash is the perfect embodiment of a Piscean, singing about murder, taking drugs and genuinely saving people's souls with spirituals his whole life through). First wife Patti Boyd's book (titled 'Wonderful Today' after a song Eric Clapton wrote for her) was published in 2007 six years after George's death (and five after this album) but the book's most illuminating passage sheds a lot of light on this. 'Where is George's hand today?' friends would ask when they popped round to Friar Park. 'Is it in the prayer bag? Or the cocaine bag?' Or, as the song's jolly cover song puts, forever trapped 'Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea'. However at least this time the album ends with the best closure possible: George's harsh dismissive political side sits side by side with his loving, giving spiritual one on the title track, which is like a biblical fight between God and the Devil transformed into song, ending in a spiritual prayer. Even without George's death this would have been a key song: for the first time since 'All Things Must Pass' he's found out how to combine the two halves of his soul on the same song - the sky should have been the limit for his writing from here-on in if only that had been meant to be.

One other, lesser theme across this album is one of water. We've already discussed 'The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea'. 'Any Road' adds the fact the narrator has been 'travelling deep beneath the waves' in his quest to get answers. 'Pisces Fish' has George physically in the water as all life carries on past him, the 'river running through my soul'. Even 'Marwa Blue' sounds like a stretch of water somewhere (although its actually the name of a fragrant plant!) What does the water signify then? Is it the 'spiritual path' of enlightenment, a holy river George has been trying to get people to 'jump into' if you will? (It might not be coincidence that the 'fish' sign for Pisces is also that for Christianity - or then again maybe not given the lyrics to 'Vatican Blues'!) Is it a sign of George wanting spiritual via baptism (if so has he been listening to too many Pete Townshend records?!) Or does the water represent the unknowable, the life force that flows within and without us all and takes us to the next level? Or had George recently bought a fish tank and had water on the brain for a while?! Either way, it's there, sort of.

So far we haven't talked much about the recording or the actual 'sound' of this album. George is in good voice throughout - something that isn't always true of his other solo albums. While some tracks give away their disparate production values ('Any Road' was written in 1987 during breaks in the making of the music video for 'This Is Love'; 'Devil' was taped in 1992 and 'Run So Far' started out life as a song gifted to Clapton in 1989 -it's only speculation but I'd hazard a guess that 'Never Get Over You' is 1980s too: its sound very like the slide-guitar-with-harmonised-choir sound of 'Gone Troppo'), most of this album hangs together surprisingly well. George left copious notes for what he wanted on the album and in what order, luckily finishing at least a guide vocal and guitar part for each song he wanted on the record. Dhani and Jeff still had a lot to do though: a lot of overdubbing and instrument adding which they mainly did between themselves (Dhani is a fine guitarist, like his dad) or with a few of George's old friends like drummer Jim Keltner (who'd work with George since 1970), percussionist Ray Cooper (ditto 1973), Herbie Flowers (1979), guitarist Joe Brown (1983), and vocalist Sam Brown (also 1983), resisting the temptation to make this some big grand superstar statement and surrounding George with all the sounds that suited him best (although it's a shame that Bob Dylan and Tom Petty aren't here somewhere). By the way, is it just my ears or can I hear Ringo on the chorus of the title track? If so then he's un-credited - and it seems odd that his name would be left off the long list of people who did appear on the song. I'm convinced that's him though. (If not it seems odd that he isn't here among this cast of friends, especially as one of the last things George did have published before his death was gift the guitar part on Ringo's 'The King Of Broken Hearts' ('Vertical Man' 1998), although then again Ringo's last appearance on a George album was Lennon tribute 'All Those Years Ago' in 1981 (on the album 'Somewhere In England'). The same goes for Eric Clapton, who plays a huge role in forming the 'Concert For George' tribute the same week this album was out (a very successful and moving event it is too - far better than all the Yoko-sponsored Lennon tributes down the years that somehow missed the point). The temptation to embellish 'Brainwashed' with extra bits and pieces it didn't need must have been huge with record company pressure breathing down the necks of Jeff and Dhani, who had to stay professional despite being in mourning. To be honest I was very worried when I heard that this album still had to be 'finished' in George's absence: Jeff Lynne's productions have been a bit hit and miss down the years (even the Travelling Wilburys records are gloss over substance a lot of the time) and Dhani was then an unknown and untested 24-year-old with the weight of expectation of his family as well as Beatle fans around the world weighing on his shoulders. I needn't have worried: the best thing about 'Brainwashed' is that, despite the bitty recording dates and the unfinished state George's legacy was left in, both men did a fabulous song: from the first note to the last 'Brainwashed' sounds utterly like a 'George Harrison' album - maybe even the archetypal George Harrison album in terms of vocals, guitar and textures - and a fitting tribute to their father and friend. You can tell how close the trio must have been in how well everything fits together just the way George 'would' have done it.

However, one factor not quite playing ball was EMI. Back on the label after years at Warner Brothers for what, sadly, turned into a one-off album deal George's old pay-masters seem to have treated this album badly from the start. Even after the album came out, with the packaging that George insisted on, they decided it wasn't selling as many copies as they expected and pulled it from the shops, issuing a 'replacement' cover of a happy smiling George Harrison that didn't fit the album mood at all. The cover that George wanted - a bunch of mannequins sat round a television - is very much in keeping with the album (especially the title track) and a much more interesting idea than any Harrison cover since 'Somewhere In England'. One last case of 'brainwashing' people into buying Beatle product, it shows how much had shifted in the world's perceptions of The Beatles  since their second heyday with 'Anthology' five odd years before (and who hadn't been this badly packaged since the awful compilation albums of the 1970s and 80s). By replacing something that told the 'truth' about modern society (as George saw it - no, heck - scratch that, I caught the end of 'The Voice' last night and it was awful, make that simply 'the truth', television does brainwash people pure and simple) with something 'fake' that meant nothing and simply wanted people to part from their cash under false pretences, EMI unwittingly fell into the trap George pleads with us all to avoid on this record. As the song says, nothing is worse than ignorance. After eleven similarly troubled years with Warner Brothers, George really did deserve better from the label who made billions out of his early work on the last product he could ever have given them.

So, then, 'Brainwashed' is a troubled record from a troubled period. The good news is that, unlike the last times George found himself low and lacking in inspiration ('Dark Horse' 1974 through to 'Thirty Three and A Third' in 1976 and 'Gone Troppo' in 1983), the gap between albums and the sensitive handling of the project after his death by son Dhani and friend Jeff Lynne means that there are less 'filler' songs here: only 'The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea', rescued from a 1998 TV appearance with a typically twinkly artificial piano part from host Jools Holland, sounds like it doesn't deserve a place on the album (what's wrong with reviving 'Horse To The Water' - also taped for a Jools Holland project, this time a various artists album in 2000 that's much better and more suitable than this), everything else is at least trying to offer something new. Indeed, had George lived to complete it (and not fallen ill) While not every song is an out and out classic ('Rocking Chair In Hawaii' is an old song sensibly left off 'Cloud Nine'), there's a lot of thought going into these songs both before and after George died. Few Harrison songs are as instantly powerful as 'Stuck Inside A Cloud', few as joyous as 'Any Road' and few tracks reflect the essence of George quite as successfully as the gorgeous  'Pisces Fish' or the delightful closing title track. Even 'Marwa Blues', a guitar-based instrumental, is one of the most perfect tracks Harrison ever recorded rather than the usual 'filler' of George's instrumentals (like 'Greece' and 'Wilbury Twist'), the one moment on this album that sounds like someone who knows his time is up. Like every George album, there is always something to love and there's more to love here than there's been for a while I actually prefer it, song for song, to the all-singing, all-dancing, high-charting 'Cloud Nine' as 'Brainwashed' contains much more George and far less identikit pop and - thank goodness - the 1980s synthesisers are long gone despite the dating of some of these songs and the fact that many of the same people worked on it. I'm intrigued, actually, where 'Brainwashed' might have sat in George's canon had his untimely death not overshadowed it: my guess is it would have been a fan favourite, selling ok but not well five years on from Anthology and getting respectably if slightly disinterested reviews. 'Brainwashed' deserves to be one of those albums you forget about after buying but re-discover a few years down the line when you 'need' to find it: when you too are as troubled and anguished as the narrator. As an album greeted with the fanfare of 'his last work ever' and 'a worthy tribute' , the unconfident 'Brainwashed' was always going to shrink away from such a spotlight. Hard as they tried to 'brainwash' us into thinking this was George's final, glorious farewell, 'Brainwashed' is another mixed but generally impressive record about life, not death: one that in typical George style is sometimes painful to hear but always told the truth as he saw it whenever and wherever he could. 'Brainwashed' is important for so many other reasons than just being the last words of the 'quiet Beatle': it may well be the record that got closest to the 'real' George in all his self-doubting, mistake-making, contradictory and very human greatness. There'll never be his like again.

Who'd have thought, when George was busy filming his video to 'This Is Love' in 1987, that the song he kept hurriedly writing on scraps of paper wouldn't appear for another 15 years - or that he wouldn't be around to see it? 'Any Road' is a song that had taken almost mythological status amongst fans by that time: he even performed during what turned out to be his last major interview, for VH-1 in 1997, on a ukulele! (Harrison plays it on a banjolele on the album, which as the name suggests is a hybrid between a ukulele and a four-string banjo).  The song may not be the greatest George ever wrote but it serves as a fine upbeat opening and is very much in keeping with all of George's past works - much so than the later songs on this album. Basically, this is a song about fate: even when you're lost and struggling you'll somehow end up where you're supposed to be. George adds in a few lines about 'paying the price with the spin of a wheel and roll of a dice' but this is still the song of a devout believer: every minor key verse comfortably lands on the cushion of a major key chorus that seems to bring realisation and the repeated line 'any road will take you there' flies off into the distance like some beacon of hope. Note too George's hint at 'future lives' in the last verse - that he'll 'just keep travelling round the bend because there is no beginning and is no end', the one reference to death on an album many fans expected to be full of it, actually written when the composer had never been in better health. The lyrics also make for a neat, upbeat contrast to Paul's 'The Long and Winding Road' - that no matter how many wrong paths we walk down in our live any road eventually takes you to enlightenment and learning that's the main concern of life on Earth. Only a slightly too short riff to base the song on and a slightly artificial feel in the performance (the one recording on this album that sounds like overdubs made by people not in the same room at the same time) prevent this one from being a 100% classic - even so, it's rather good.

'P2 Vatican Blues' is a very unusual song. In the past George's targets have included tax collectors, ignorance and the other Beatles - this is the only time he attacks organised religion. Things had moved on so quickly since Lennon had made his misquoted 'Beatles are bigger than Jesus' remark in 1966 that the press barely batted an eye lid, but its fascinating to hear the song of a 35-year-convert to Hinduism and Buddhism taking the Catholic religion he grew up with (while not strong believers Harrison did go to a Liverpool Catholic school) to task, basically for being false. At the time the Catholic church seemed like an easy target: an institution with falling numbers and influence. However events since 2002 have suggested that George was paying close attention to the 'sex' scandals and tales of abuse that have rocked the institution during the past 15 years closer than any of the papers were ('It's quite suspicious, to say the least - even mentioned it to my local priest'). You sense we haven't quite got to the bottom of how wide-ranging the abuse scandals were yet either, what with Pope Benedict's sudden announcement that he was leaving (I like Pope Francis, though, whose done as much as he can to be transparent and heal warring factions and if ever the church is going to rise up again it's via the work he's doing now - and voting 'Revolver' as the Papacy's favourite album does him no harm at all in my eyes!) What in, say, Lennon's hands would have been scathing screaming song of outrageousness is treated with just a wry grin here though: George thinks the church should be inspiring great works of art, like the Michelangelo painting on the Sistine Chapel he wakes up underneath - but instead in his eyes the Church has become a mere spectacle that stands for nothing. George tells us that it's 'all a show', with the puffs of smoke telling the world that a new Pope has been chosen now spectacle rather than just tradition. The repeated chorus line 'last Saturday night' also has the effect of turning this fast-paced blues into a party: something frivolous on the level of a rock concert, where priests breaking the law can repent after such a series of 'hail Marys'. However, clever as much of the result is, there isn't much of a song to go with George's observations - this song kind of slides by without you noticing.

'Pisces Fish', on the other-hand, is gorgeous. A tale of the world carrying on as normal, without the enlightenment George has just been granted, 'Pisces Fish' is one of Harrison's greatest songs about being a 'believer'. The song might cut even deeper than that, though. The reference to mad cow disease ('The farmer stands around complaining that his mad cows are being put to sleep') pins at least this final draft of the song to no earlier than 2000, when George was already very poorly: is this 'Brainwashed's one attempt at a last eulogy? The song is very George, dealing with the two halves of his nature where the religious aspects of life drive him on but he still has a very earthy sense of humour, watching the very human exploits of the people around him and experiencing it himself when his bicycle breaks down. The last verse, especially, feels like an 'ending': 'Sometimes my life feels like fiction, some of the days it's really quite serene, I'm a living proof of life's contradictions, one half going where the other half's just been'. Along the way there's yet another sig at the Catholic Church, with 'smoke signals' from a brewery' announcing the 'latest Pope' and a cast of priests who sound like extras from one of those 1960s series with Derek Nimmo as a slapstick vicar. George's narrator, however, knows that the truth doesn't lie there but in the people themselves who don't 'see' it: 'One unbounded ocean of bliss that's flowing through your parents, sons and daughters', passed on from one generation to the next. As a result 'Pisces Fish' isn't really a full 'end' either, but a recognition that life goes on in some other body next time around. 'Pisces Fish' is still moving, though, in the same way that every actor's final 'goodbye' as the timelord in Dr Who is moving even though we know that the story will carry on in a few months. One of George's most moving songs, this sensitive lyric is accompanied by a sweet melody that seems to be wearily shrugging its shoulders throughout before finally taking the plunge into the next part of the song. Only a vocal that's clearly here merely as a 'guide' one (was this the last song George got ready for the album?) prevents a flood of tears. The quiet highlight of 'Brainwashed', 'Pisces Fish' is the 'real' George - sombre, stately, but with twinges of humour to lighten everything and put a smile on your face.

'Looking For My Life' is the saddest song on the album. Sounding not unlike the great 'Wake Up My Love' from 'Gone Troppo' (Jim Keltner even plays a similar drum lick), this is George the impatient believer wanting a 'sign' and wanting it now. 'Oh Lord, won't you listen to me now?' the song starts, but this time around George 'learns' patience as the song goes on. 'I never knew that things exploded' Harrison sings, shocked at the sudden down turn of events in his life, declaring that for all his songs and experiences he only found out about life 'when I was down upon my knees, looking for my life'. There's a twist in the second verse: the fault is George's, not God's: 'I had no idea I was heading to a state of emergency, I had no fear where I was treading' - but God had different plans and, a humble servant, George feels he should have guessed that instead of becoming 'content'. Chances are George had written this somewhere in the 1990s, a decade of turbulence for him and family as we've seen, but his moving vocal suggests that this recording, at least, was made after his diagnosis when he knew he was dying. George being George he can't resist a joke at his own expense - laughing that he should have known better and to expect the unexpected he adds 'I never got any GCEs'. The really sad thing about this song, though, isn't the words but the melody: crushed by the weight of circumstances it really does sound as if George is 'down upon his knees' and the chorus literally forces his head to the floor, the line 'looking for my life' sung in such a deep descending growl that he has problems getting there. It's as if he's fallen further than even he thought he'd ever fall, way out of his comfort zone, and the fact that the vocal yearns throughout to rise to Heaven throughout makes it even sadder.
'Rising Sun' is happier, but blander. This one of George's 'outward' looking songs (which sounds rather out of place on an album of high autobiography): the world is a messed up place, he sings, 'crippled by boundaries, programmed into guilt, till your nervous system starts to tilt' and a 'room of mirrors' that pretend to 'see' far in the distance but really show nothing. However the 'rising sun' (the traditional symbol of The East, although more normally meaning Japan not George's beloved India) offers answers, the idea that we've all been here before and that there's a 'universe at play - you're a billion years old today!' Although not released as the single, this song appeared heavily in promotion for the record and was one of this album's two selections (along with 'Any Road' and 'Marwa Blues') to appear on the Olivia-sanctioned 'Songs By George Harrison') suggesting that its author was rather proud or fond of it. Certainly 'Rising Sun' has a clever lyric that manages to say quite eloquently what George had been thinking for a while and there simply had to be a song like this on the album - a re-write of a theme George has been using most of his career - but alas this is no 'Living In The Material World', never mind 'Within You, Without You'. There's no real melody to work with here (George speaks rather than sing for most of the recording) and Jeff Lynne succumbs too often to the temptation of making it 'sound' busy: adding the sort of ELO strings that worked on 'When We Was Fab' but detract from this little song that should be small and understated, rather than an epic. The result is a song that's clever but not very emotional and filled with sounds that are off-putting rather than enticing.

The delicious 'Marwa Blues' is all emotion though: a long slow guitar blues using George's favourite slide guitar part, this one scored highly on our 'best ever AAA instrumentals' article (back in News, Views and Music Issue 124) and features a moving series of chords that really do feel like a 'progression' from first to last. There's a superb orchestral arrangement from Marc Mahn (it seems odd that Lynne didn't do this) that provides a delicate orchestral accompaniment that ebbs and flows alongside George's part as if playing a different tune but one that's perfectly in sympathy, caught halfway between 'Something' and 'I Am The Walrus'. We've been rude about Lynne a couple of times on this site already but his keyboard parts are spot on too, adding atmosphere without detracting from the song. No one seems to be quite in agreement what 'Marwa Blues' means as a title, but as a keen gardener I'm willing to bet George at least knew about the Indian flower of the same name; he may also have known that the phrase 'Marwa' means fragrant and full of life - in some readings it even means 'pregnant'! That's an apt name for an instrumental that seems to be teeming with life: a beautiful soundscape where George's slide guitar sounds terribly at home, with this track interestingly pulling at the heart strings more than any of the actual 'songs' on this LP. Unlike many instrumentals, 'Marwa Blues' doesn't need any words though: the emotion, sadness and fragility on the one hand and hope and awe on the other are there for all to hear. 

My favourite song on the album, though, is 'Stuck Inside A Cloud'. Another of George's more timid songs, it depicts just what a sad and lonely time the years before this album were sometimes for him: 'Lost my concentration, I could even lose my touch' he sighs, but no matter how much he talks to himself or 'cries out aloud' he can't get his message through in song or thought. Interestingly the chorus reads differently in the lyric booklet compared to the way George sings it. The song says: 'Only I can hear me and I'm stuck inside a cloud', suggesting isolation, but the way George sings the word 'me' it sounds like 'you' - thus making this another song about God and trying to pass his message on when George seems to be a lone voice in an ugly material world. A gorgeous melody that's awash with synthesisers and really does sound like being 'stuck inside a cloud', a storming guitar solo and George's best vocal on the album make for a highly memorable recording as well as just a song. However it's the last verse, possibly added later, that really hits you: 'Just talking to myself, crying out aloud, knowing as you leave me I also lose my heart'. Even after all his years believing in another life after this one and of recording the ultimate accepting song about death ('All Things Must Pass') George is still afraid of what comes next. An extraordinary, moving song, 'Cloud' is a tremendous achievement and would be a highlight of any Harrison record, never mind the one where he says goodbye. Released as the first single from the album (as a 'download only' gimmick that George would have hated) this song deserved to do better; most fans seem to be oddly negative towards it, perhaps because it doesn't offer that hope and serenity we were expecting from George's last works. However I'd much rather George ended the way he started, by telling it like it is and he was rarely braver than on this moving song. As an interesting footnote I've only just learnt, George was as interested in numerology as Lennon, but instead of '9' his favourite number was '7' and he would often start albums from the 'seventh' track when buying something new. It was Dhani, wanting to keep as close to his father's wishes as he could, asked for this song - also his favourite and one he considered to be the 'heart' of the album - who pushed for this song to be track seven on the album where it works rather well.

From hereon-in 'Brainwashed' dips a little. '(Can Only) Run So Far' (as it's listed in the booklet - the back of the sleeve drops the part in brackets completely) is a song George had already given away once to Eric Clapton for his 'Journeyman' album in 1989. Eric's version is slower and less urgent than George's and the pair duel on the guitar parts rather than Harrison playing solo. The lyrics are identical though: a very Harrison reflection on how you can travel to the ends of the Earth ('You fly out as your smile runs thin') and buck your responsibilities but some day they'll always catch up with you. The song suits George's gravelly voice much better (Eric's features both men singing at once and while compatible harmonically in every other sense their vocals were not designed to go together!) Considering what a sad song it really is (basically, it says we're all doomed for every mistakes we make) the mood is decidedly more upbeat on George's version, more accepting that things will turn out fine in the end. Possibly inspired by the Handmade Films business problems, it might have been written for Denis O'Brien trying to wriggle out of court appearances - or might have been written to gee Harrison up for his own part in the proceedings.

'Never Get Over You' is a love song for Olivia that uses many of the sounds 'associated' with her - the kind of exotic Hawaiian guitar that filled up all of George's albums between 1979 and 1983. In fact so similar is the sound this sounds like a 'Gone Troppo' outtake - the song even has the same dreamy, sleepy feel as much of that 'holiday' album, together with lyrics that sounds like a re-write of 1979's 'Dark Sweet Lady' and a slightly uncomfortabler poppy middle eight straight out of 'Somewhere In England'. George's last love song, it doesn't quite have the majesty or the thoughtfulness of 'Something' or the cuteness of 'I Need You' but it does at least sound warm and content and emotionally honest, which puts it a notch above anything on 'Cloud Nine' for a start. George admits that he isn't the best or warmest of human beings occasionally, but Olivia has a way of defrosting his iciest mood and of 'warming the coldest feet' whenever he goes 'off' one of the projects he's working on. Compared to other songs for Olivia ('My Dark Sweet Lady' especially), this song sounds notably ethereal rather than earth-bound, up in the stars rather than taking place on Earth. Does this song reflect George's hope that the pair will meet again in the 'sky' one day?

'Devil and the Deep Blue Sea' is the joker in the pack. Taped during a Jools Holland appearance in 1992 (the pair's friendship was one of the reason Holland got the interviewing job on 'Anthology'), George instantly sounds ten years younger and the live vocal and lack of overdubs gives a twinkling feel to this inter-war song first recorded by Cab Calloway. A music hall novelty, it fits Jools Holland's plunckity-plunk playing to a tee but is more of a stretch for George despite the chance it gives him to play a ukulele on national television. A rather silly song about being forced between two bad things, it really doesn't fit this album tonally, musically or texturally and might perhaps have been better left as a one-off rarity. However I can see where Jeff and Dhani were going by adding this song: George has a twinkle in the voice that 'Brainwashed' could have done with more of and the theme of the song (the duality, the water themes, the dealing with pressure from both sides so that you don't know whether action or inaction is worse) is spot-on for this troubled album, even if the oompah-ing brass and tickled ivories aren't.

Hidden away near the end, 'Rocking Chair In Hawaii' is a curious song that gets easily overlooked. A sleepy blues that sounds naggingly familiar (although I can't quite place where the sing-songy riff comes from - any ideas?!), it's actually an outtake that dates all the way back to 'All Things Must Pass'. It seems odd that George should revive it now (his peak days for reviving old days was in the late 70s and early 80s) as it's hardly a classic and runs out of ideas long before the three minutes are up (he should have revived the fun 'Window Window' or the sweet 'Cosmic Empire' instead). George presumably 'returned' to this song when he did because he wrote it as an imaginary version of when he got old when he was all of 27 (just as Paul wrote 'When I'm 64' when he was 15), imagining himself in a rocking chair by a river. In a neat mirror of 'Any Road' and 'Pisces Fish', though, he adds that 'you may be going where you've just been', a neat combination of the two songs that might have jogged his memory of this 'lost' song (especially if he really was sitting by a river in a rocking chair as his 'new' title set in his favourite holiday destination 'Hawaii' suggests. However really this isn't so much a song as a chance to sound like a blues guitarist and singer for a few minutes: a sound that doesn't suit George all that well, while the riff that darts in and out of the song doesn't really fit.

Thankfully 'Brainwashed' ends powerfully, George choosing to make his final message to the world an update of 'Living In The Material World', telling us the truth now that there's nobody out there to silence him. Very much like that track (and in keeping with the duality of the album) 'Brainwashed' sounds like its hopping from foot to foot, based on a turbulent minor key verse that never goes where you expect and the serene, gorgeous major key certainty of the 'spiritual' part. I'd love to know whether it was deliberate, but George's song is both very similar and very different to Lennon's 'God' ('Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' 1970), a 'denial' of every single belief system used by the human race as mere fiction: that our leaders, Governments, even 'God' and ultimately even The Beatles are a  'fake' that no longer means everything.  George comes close to saying the same thing in his own clever quick-stepping lyrics, telling us how we're brainwashed from childhood by teachers, by Kings and Queens  and politicians and the military when we're older and that life could be so much more if only we'd look! The only people preventing human beings from fulfilling themselves in the eyes of God are rules and regulations made by other human beings and most of us don't even realise it. George builds up to a froth of indignation that's great to hear after a comparatively laidback album and some of the lines are his cleverest in years, caught midway between a joke and a rant. However the moment where George disagrees with John is by offering an answer and hope. Over a peaceful backing - and one last outing for an Indian instrument (the tabla) Isabela Borzymowska reads out passages from 'How To Know God', a philosophical tome by The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjaki (thus completing a circle that began with George taking the lyric from 'The Inner Light' from a similar book 35 years earlier).  Refusing to turn his back on the human race, even in death, George screams 'I just won't accept defeat!' and enrols a choir of his friends and family to chant 'God God God' like a mantra, imploring the messiah to rise then and there and save the world from itself. Like 'God' (suggesting George did know the song), George cycles back round the song again, growing up another head of steam until the sing finally crash lands at around the four minute mark. At first we think that's it, that George has left us with those crashing chords and silence. But no, one single organ note shines through, like a tiny light from the darkness that gradually takes over the whole song while George chants about the greatness of God and tries to save our soul one last time. Debate has raged about these words ever since 'Brainwashed' came out and many fans assume that George made them up (it's not in a very well known language. But no: one enterprising fan got in touch with the American Hindu Association and asked for a translation of the closing mantra. The words, it turns out, mean this: Sing the name of the Goddess Parvati, the remover of all afflictions, Sing praises to the Divine, Praise, Praise be to Shiva the Great God' And with that George is finally gone, the organ note not stopping so much as disappearing down a dark hole that swallows it up, perhaps hinting at it reconverging during our next life where if we're lucky we get to hear the 'rest' of the song - and every other 'George' song to come. It's a magical moment on one of George's most important epics and is typically Harrison, making us both happy and sad, outraged and contented, upset and hopeful all at the same time. 'Brainwashed' isn't always a great album and doesn't always offer us what we know George was capable of, but this one song (and 'Stuck Inside A Cloud') pretty much rescue the album singlehandedly, with all the emotional weight we were expecting.


In truth, though, not as much of 'Brainwashed' offers that emotional balance we were expecting. There was a lot riding on this album which it simply couldn't cope with and in many ways George turns in his most 'lightweight' album those two great masterpieces aside (the same is true, of course, for Lennon's lightweight 'Double Fantasy', although he had less idea that his time was coming to an end) Don't come to this record expecting some grand statement on the lines of 'All Things Must Pass' - by George's high standards it's not even that good an LP. However parts of 'Brainwashed' get Harrison's spirit, humour, occasional rage and humanity spot on and for the third of the album that works best ('Cloud' 'Brainwashed' 'Marwa Blues' 'Pisces Fish') 'Brainwashed' is still an essential purchase every Harrison fan should love. It's the rest of the album that's a bit lower in quality than we were expecting (especially after so many years of work spent on it). A successful musical elaboration on this album's main theme of 'a voice crying out in the wilderness', it's a shame for this record's sake that it wasn't finished earlier and that there was never a chance for the follow-up. Removed from it's sad job as George's goodbye it's actually a promising album that's grown up nicely since 'Cloud Nine'; as George's last goodbye, however, it seems fragile and incomplete, a commiseration rather than a celebration of why we loved George quite so much. No matter: despite a late surge of doubt across this album, George still offers the hope that one day we will meet again - and until that day 'Brainwashed' is the next best thing, full of everything George wanted to say by and large told in the right way. 

Other George Harrison reviews from this site you might be interested in reading:


'Gone Troppo' (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2014/02/george-harrison-gone-troppo-1982.html


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