Monday, 20 April 2015
George Harrison "Extra Texture (Read All About It)" (1975)
You/The Answer's At The End/This Guitar (Can't Keep From Crying)/Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You)/World Of Stone//A Bit More Of You/Can't Stop Thinking About You/Tired Of Midnight Blue/Grey Cloudy Lies/His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen)
"Look - I'm sorry there's a table on your foot, I'm sorry!"
(What does this mean? Read on, read on, the answer's at the end - well about the middle actually!)
There's a telling moment right at the very end of this album's second track 'The Answer's At The End' where, five years on from the glorious 'Isn't It A Pity?', Harrison returns to that song's themes for the first time. But instead of a weary sigh writ large about the major subject of mankind's inability to realise the hurt he's doing George sounds small and guilt-ridden, turning inward with sights turned so much lower on a song about personal guilt. He repeats the same trick a few tracks later when self-confessed sequel 'This Guitar Can't Keep From Crying' starts reaching for the soaring guitar solo that suddenly made the painful world of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' so powerful - and George simply prods and pokes at the song's main riff, parrot-style (neither come close to the beauty of future 'sequel' 'Here Comes The Moon', as here the innovation seems to end with the idea of writing a return instead of making the song great even if the first song had never existed). With new songs becoming harder to write due to a combination of all sorts of issues during 1974-1975, George reaches back to 1971 for a Ronnie Spector sessions outtake. And because he can't think of anything else to pad out the album he reaches for the same recording again to open side two. Just seven years on from what's generally hailed as his true entry to songwriting on a level of John and Paul, just five years on from being celebrated as the world's greatest ex-Beatle and a mere four years after having top 40 hit singles good enough running spare to sit on the shelves, George Harrison is running on empty. Seven of the ten songs here are breathy ballads (the exceptions being those two 1971 outtakes and a bizarre finale that finds George promoting the member of the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band nobody remembers, simply because he can), with all of them coming in various shades of the same hue. This is a sad, desperate, lonely album with half-an-ear on the blues, dominated by the same washes of keyboards and synthesiser (the only variety being the player on the keyboard stool) that mean that almost all of it passes by without making any sort of impact at all. Which was more or less what George wanted.
There shouldn't have been a Harrison album in 1975. He was tired, worn out from a two-month tour of America that was so disastrous it put him over ever playing life again for the rest of his career: crowds were restless during support Ravi Shankar's lengthy Indian ragas, fans felt annoyed when a Hindu-loving Harrison heckled them from the stage about their rock and roll lifestyles - often while clutching a hypocritical bottle of booze - and where his throat gave out badly, leaving fans to forever nickname it his 'Dark Hoarse' tour. While rescued to some extent by friend Billy Preston singing most of the lines for him while George croaked and waved helplessly from the stage, fans still felt cheated and critics sharpened their knives in a way that George had never known before. After the highs of 'All Things Must Pass', a lot of reviewers were willing to accept 'Material World' as a marking time album, whilst mildly disliking the 'Dark Horse' album itself. The tour, however, gave the press the ammunition all the Beatles haters had been saving and - apart from a brief spell in the second half of the 1980s when George became the 'most popular ex Beatle' again - dogged him for the rest of his life, to the point where people were seriously writing articles after his death that labelled him 'the nice geezer with some famous friends who got lucky while knowing how to play a bit of guitar', rather than recognising Harrison as the pioneer he was at his best. However George, who had never had to go through anything like this amount of negative appraisal before (while The Beatles had themselves suffered it, he looked on both Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be with disdain at the time, largely blaming McCartney for both) was not at his best - and the critical backlash only made him feel worse. In later years Harrison would just retreat to his garden and ignore the music world - but in 1975 Apple were disintegrating and George needed another album in a hurry to be released from his contract and on to Warner Brothers with whom he had already been in talks to start his own label Dark Horse Records (if you look closely at the original vinyl you can see that the traditional 'Apple' logo has been half-eaten away, George's dig at the fact there weren't many releases on Apple left after Lennon's retirement and the release of 'Ringo' and 'Band On The Run' just before this set; indeed the single from 'Extra Texture' - 'This Guitar Can't Keep From Crying' - is the very last release until the label is resurrected briefly for Beatles re-issues in the 1980s).
George spends much of 'Extra Texture' joking to us that he'd rather not be here making an album and we'd rather not be listening to him as well, joking at the absurd 'game' he has to play (the album's odd looking orange sleeve with blue bits turns out to be a grinning picture of George under the caption 'Ohnothimagen' - 'Oh not him Again!' or maybe 'Oh Nothing Making' depending how quickly you read it - a spoof of what the papers were actually saying. Anyone whose spent any time looking at pictures of George will know that this cheesy showbiz portrait is about as un-Harrison like as the 'back flip' a dancer kindly performs for him in the music video for 'Got My Mind Set On You'). Retreating to America, mainly to get away from rattling around Friar park on his own, George found that only a few of his friends were able to travel out there with him and the album packaging also includes what must be unique amongst rock and roll albums: not just a credit of whose there, but additionally who doesn't appear on the recordings (selections include Danny Kortchmar - because he was busy with fellow AAA stars David Crosby and Graham Nash incidentally - Derek Taylor, Eric Idle and Peter Sellers, all firmly ensconced back in the Britain he was missing.
However it's someone else on this album George can't thinking about: Patti. The anger and bitterness of his split with her and Eric Clapton's claim as the new love of her life had already been covered on 'Dark Horse'; by now a little bit of time has passed and George is feeling both melancholy living alone in the great mansion they'd bought together and feeling a little guilty for not practising what he'd been preaching all those years before about how others should be living their lives. Patti is undoubtedly the 'You' that this nostalgic album keeps returning to in not just 'You' but 'A Bit More Of You' 'Can't Keep Thinking About You' and 'Ooh Baby You Know That I Love You' as well. It's unusual to hear George address a person like this, but it's as if after cutting Patti out of his life for so long George is now addressing songs directly to her. By his own admission Harrison's devotion to Hindu philosophy had changed his personality greatly and to some extent cut him off from the world as earthly pursuits in this 'illusional' 'Material world' no longer seemed to matter; while Patti was as spiritual as anybody in The Beatles' camp in the 1960s she struggled to accept just how deeply George had grown into his faith, at the risk of shutting her out. Notably 'Extra Texture' is the only George Harrison solo record to have no mentions of religion or God anywhere in its lyrics, even subtlety, perhaps as penance. George later claimed to have been too upset to enter the now empty Friar Park after his long tour that he simply slept outside in the garden - perhaps afraid and ashamed to face the memories (at least, that's what these songs sound like). Harrison's longterm friend Klaus Voormann, who he'd known since the Hamburg days - and who did make the trip but left the sessions midway through in disgust, leaving George to play three bass parts on the album- recalls that this was a very 'down' album to make, with the Los Angeles session musicians partying every night and partaking of much drink and booze. In short, it's the Harrison equivalent of Lennon's 'Lost Weekend', albeit a year late and lasting several months shorter (George reportedly stopped once he got back home again to an empty Friar Park). It may be, then, that after veering too far to one extreme of his personality George was zooming straight to the extreme of the other - and cutting religion out of his life altogether. However that leaves the album with a problem: George has spent his life preaching against this sort of behaviour and clearly doesn't want to condone it in song - and yet he's too guilty/fed up of his usual spiritual songs too. He's not particularly keen on writing about Patti either, although it's those songs that seem to be pouring out of him. So what on earth can he write about?
'Extra Texture' is in many ways procrastination central. There's an opening song that takes an entire 85 seconds to tell us simply that 'I...love...you!' There's a reprise of that song five tracks later where George doesn't sing a note. There's a comedy filler about another of George's friends who didn't make the trip with him to the States, 'Legs' Larry Smith, whose eccentric gentleman image must surely have reminded George of everything he was missing at home in Britain. There's a padded out sequel to 'Gently Weeps' that's similar in every respect except having a message to convey. No wonder, then, that so many fans give this record such short shrift: all that time-delaying leaves George just six songs on which to make his mark and al four of these tracks are pretty dire even by the standards of the lowest ebbs on 'Dark Horse' - George knows in his heart of hearts that he'd got nothing to say and yet still has to make a record that no one out there will like anyway because its Beatle-bashing time! However the other six songs are if not outright classics, then amongst the most under-rated in Harrison's oeuvre: not immediately loveable by any means, not even particularly well written and with the same overly soppy production values as the rest of the sleepy LP. But in them somewhere you can hear what George was trying to do and he puts his emotions out on the line quite convincingly.
'The Answers At The End' is the one track on the record that 'feels' like a George Harrison song, it repeats 'Run Of Mill's good advice that true fans only judge each other when their characters have got too far out of control and promises to stop viewing the world from the end of a magnifying glass (which is a little like what I'm doing with this site - but that's OK because I'm using a microscope). 'Ooh Baby' is one last great love song for Patti that isn't an old song but sounds like it, recalling all sorts of past ballads from 'I Need You' to 'Something' without ever quite settling on an actual melody, as if his sub-conscious is re-playing memories in terms of songs. 'World Of Stone' is an even sadder re-make of 'Material World' where this and the spiritual side have collided, leaving the world not as 'good' and 'bad' but murky grey, cold and impenetrable and sounds as if it was written in the States 'such an awfully long way from home' (interestingly it's spelt 'OM', as in the Krishna-paved path of rightfulness, in George's book of lyrics 'I Me Mine' although that's not how he sings it here). 'Can't Stop Thinking About You' isn't actually connected to 'You' and dates from 1975 not 1971 but sounds as if it might have been - it fades up underneath the instrumental 'A Bit More Of You' as if it's been playing underneath all the time and has George returning to his muse a little older and a lot sadder, as if contrasting a 'before' and 'after' shot. While not the greatest break-up song ever written and without much to say except the title, its hard not to be knocked over by the real emotion at the core of this sad heartfelt song, a final end to the trilogy begun with 'Deep Blue' and 'So Sad'. 'Tired Of Midnight Blue' is perhaps the record's strongest track, the closest to a decent uptempo track on the record although this is still clearly a 'blues' and unusually for George written in the minor key, the solar God from 'Here Comes The Sun' turning away from George and no longer drying his tears (is this God or Patti or both?) Once again George 'wishes that I'd stayed home - with you', balancing both the homesick and 'You' themes of the record. Finally 'Grey Cloudy Lies' starts as if it's going to be a triumphant Harrison song: another 'Run Of The Mill' 'Let It Roll' 'Isn't It A Pity?' or 'All Things Must Pass' that starts off sad before gradually finding reason and purpose in the curious ways of man and Gods and comes out the other side smiling. But it doesn't - to do so would be a 'lie' - and throughout the song Harrison strains at the song as if trying to right itself from its stupor only to have his own frog-like keyboard part mouthing back at him, mocking him all the time with its comedy 'jollity'. While the melody is just that bit unforgettable and the performance just that shade too slow to work, this song is lyrically by far the best on the album, George waking up from a bad dream to find himself on a 'battleground', longing for the day he can escape 'the pistol pointing at my brain' and the tears falling from his eyes, but wearily sighing that 'I've got no chance'. George should have been strong enough to end the album here, instead of tripping over 'Leg's, because it would have been the perfect curtain-closer to Apple as the last album song by a Beatle on the label and recalling Badfinger's own bittersweet lament 'Apple Of My Eye' from three years before: the 'I Me Mine' of his solo catalogue, the narrator the lone voice of reason in a world that's turned into a war, regretting his own part in the battle.
Instead the album ends with a song that's got to be one of the strangest on any AAA record. We'll return to this song later, as we always do, but seeing as there's so miuch history wrapped up in that one song we'll unravel it now. Legs Larry Smith is the quiet gentlemen not doing much in the 'Deathcab For Cutie' sequence in 'Magical Mystery Tour' where the Bonzos are in a strip club, Vivian Stanshall is going so over the top he's out the other side and the song's actual writer Neil Innes is hiding way at the back, trying not to laugh. A frequent house guest of The Harrisons over the course of the 1970s, George leaned on him more and more after Patti left to the point where his long-term friends began referring to Smith as 'the Friar Park court jester'. George was badly in need of some laughs and came to rely on his friend heavily. This song is a pay-back to Smith, a jokey way of making sure he got the same amount of press attention as his better known colleagues in the Bonzos and Monty Python's Flying Circus and is filled with impenetrable in-jokes that Harrison admits in his 'I Me Mine' book of lyrics that 'only he and I would get'. It's another case of George's certainty across this album that the whole world has turned against him and left him - that there's no audience listening to him or buying his records anyway so he may as well write for himself now (fittingly, really, 'Extra Texture' became the lowest charting 'normal' solo Beatle album of all up to this point in the UK, with less people than ever before taking notice of it). That's why we get six minutes of George speaking apparent gibberish in a straight voice, while Larry in turn introduces himself several times and launches into his peculiar stage patter (if you happen to know the 1968 Beatles Christmas Fanclub Record its basically the bit where a straight faced George promises the fans 'a treat' and introduced Tiny Tim 'all the way from Stokely-Carmichael On Sea', although not even that funny).
Just to make the joke even more 'what the?' George overdubs Larry lots of times at once, so that we can't make out what he's saying over the course of this lengthy six minute joke and then making this the first of George's 'vocal' albums not to contain a lyric sheet so fans can't read what the song says either just to ram the point home. This isn't for the world to laugh at - this is for George to laugh at, because the rest of the world's a nasty place. It may also reflect George's response to effectively getting the last word on Apple before the label is wrapped up for good: the last words ever uttered on an Apple album are the nonsensical 'I seem to have got a table stuck on your foot - I'm so sorry!' (a reference to the business meetings or simply an act of deliberate confusion for the history books?!)
Amazingly things do get better and those grey cloudy lies lifted almost the minute that this album was released. In the course of 1976 George will meet the second love of his life Olivia, form his own long-awaited record label Dark Horse with help from Warner Brothers (what on Earth did they make of 'His Name Is Legs'?!) and both his house and his head will be full again, the events of Patti and Apple receding into the distance like a bad dream. It will take George's confidence a bit longer to recover from the shock, with the next record (33 and 1/3rd') far more upbeat and pleasant to listen to but actually even emptier than this one (it will take critics until 'Cloud Nine' to go all ga-ga for George again on a decidedly lesser record, which just goes to show what strange things synthesisers did to otherwise sensible people in 1987). As for 'Extra Texture' I rather like it. I certainly don't love it - the opening and ending songs and 'This Guitar' are atrocious while even the better songs come with tempos that are way too slow and insipid production that makes even the best songs here seem the same. (that was probably the intention; in case you were wondering the title is another 'in joke', George commenting to someone in the studio that the record needed a little....pausing while he thought of the word 'extra' only for someone else in the room to add 'texture?' at the very same time. The result was a joke that tickled George for days). However 'the artistic nadir' of George's career as this record is so often labelled? A record contract fulfiller and nothing more? The sound of a man with absolutely nothing to say and no interest in saying it? No, not entirely: there's a real message in the heart of this album, an extended reflection about guilt, loneliness and despair that's remarkably brave, even if the sloppy way its delivered here (with some really bad papering over the cracks) has successfully fooled us fans for years at looking the other way. This is actually, in part, one of George's better albums - it's just all realised deliberately poorly, a record that should be the one of the loneliest saddest confessionals in the musical world recorded in the middle of a party nobody in the room seems to be enjoying. Like the unusual inventive album cover, it tries to be happy and bright orange but when you open it up its just 'blue'.
A final word - because I forgot to add it earlier and can't find a way of fitting it in without squishing another point up now - about the sound of this record. Having spent the better part of two months side by side with Billy Preston, George takes a leaf out of his book and delivers an album that merges his usual style with soul, or slow funk. Several of the day's leading musicians are hired, including many of the players who performed on Lennon's 'lost weekend' album 'Walls and Bridges' funnily enough (including the ever-wonderful Jesse Ed Davis, Nicky Hopkins making his 111th odd appearance on this website and Andy Newmark; is this a similar cry for help to Lennon's then?) There are copious strings and horns - extra textures if you will - that George doesn't normally have. What's more there's barely any guitar: even 'This Guitar Can't Keep From Crying' doesn't feature one and the predominant sound is keyboards, with George tapping into the use of his friends from his past like Gary Wright (of Splinter), Leon Russell (as per the Bangla Desh concert) and Nicky Hopkins again. Funnily enough, though, Billy Preston isn't one of the players who made the trip to LA - he does appear on the album but it's on 'His Name Is Legs', the one song that couldn't sound less 'English' if it came in a teapot! The end result is that this record begins to sound more like a Stevie Wonder record than a George Harrison one and the guitarist often sounds adrift and lost on his own album; which is kind of the point of the record really.
'You' is the best known song from the album and a minor hit single, although that probably says more for the loyalty of George's fans than any merits as a song. A cute B side that doesn't say much turned into a production powerhouse that pretends it's saying lots, it speaks volumes that George's first draft of the song was turned down by Ronnie Spector in 1971, incurring not just the displeasure of an Ex-Beatle but the wrath of her then-husband Phil who was still very much a friend of Harrisons at the time. Alas for George he wrote the backing track for Ronnie to sing, in a much higher register than he's comfortable with and it shows, although in a way the vocal is the best thing about the track: at least its giving us something a little different and close to heartfelt even if George at times sounds like one of the Mike Samme Singers from the end of 'I Am The Walrus'. It's not that this song is bad as such, simply that it has less to say than any the songs on 'All Things Must Pass' (even the 'Apple Jam' ones). Just take that opening verse in its entirety: 'I, I love, and I love love, and I love you, oh yeah you'. True things do pick up for a middle eight that tells us 'ooh when I'm holding you yeah what a feeling, so good to be true that I'm feeling I'm dreaming', but even this passage comes with the slight feeling that this song has been sub-consciously nicked from some Abba ditty or another (it also recalls The Beatles' BBC performance of 'The Honeymoon Song' where the fab four poked fun at the banal rhymes 'feeling' and 'ceiling'). None of this would matter if the melody was up to scratch, but while the riff is nice and naggingly, it's all played at such a slow speed and with such a feeling of indifference that it doesn't really make its mark. There's even a saxophone solo which regular readers will know always fills me with apoplexy - not necessarily because of the tone of the sax itself but because 'those' sort of empty squeaking solos always seem to turn up in 'those' sort of songs best described as walking-tempo plods. The 1971 original heard on bootleg is better if only for skipping the sax parts altogether and possessing a little of the rough edges still which this 1975 update shamelessly shaves off. The trouble with 'You' is that, while in the context of the album it's clearly a song about Patti, it could be a song about absolutely anybody with nothing individual or memorable about it at all. Alarmingly some critics compared it favourably to 'What Is Life', with which the song possesses the same tempo-strut and a similar cry for help to one individual but the differences between the two songs are night and day in terms of depth.
'The Answer's At The End' is the album's second longest song and a slow, smoky ballad in a similar vein to early Harrison LPs. It's a real shame that the lyrics to this album aren't printed anywhere in the original packaging because they're often rather good across this album and here in particular. Returning to the holier-than-thou wisdom of 'All Things Must Pass' (the song even reprises the refrain 'isn't it a pity how?...' and was, like 'Let It Roll' and 'Ding Dong Ding Dong', taken from one of architect Frankie Crisp's carvings at Friar Park - tbis one is from a garden wall) but this time with a little more humility, this is a sadder George realising that it is human to err and vowing not to comment on the faults of friends when he's so lacking himself. Promising not to 'scan a friend with a microscopic glass' Harrison wearily turns to the listener with the advice that really what he's learnt in life is that he knows less than he thought he did - that 'life is one long enigma my friend'. Returning to 'Run Of The Mill' George urges all of us to 'not be so hard the ones you love' before perhaps thinking of Patti and realising that 'it's the ones you love that you think so little of' (in fact George is so taken with this sudden insight that he repeats it five times throughout the song - more times even than 'I, I love, love you' is repeated in the opening song. Like 'The Art Of Dying' et sequence, however, all these traps of life are only here to confuse us from our real 'mission' - which can only be discovered when we die (though interesting this LP, which George knew had to be faintly commercial to sell, doesn't use the word 'death' anywhere). Alas the melody isn't up to the words and is so slow that even the added kick of a sudden rush of energy downwards from Willie Weeks' bass part and the strings can't make this track exciting. While George's vocal is now back in its proper register, it still doesn't sound right and comes out of a sort of soul rasp, as if George is offering his impression of colleague Billy Preston instead (was this song perhaps written for him originally?) Misguided and ill-performed as the recording is though (everything about this production is a cluttered mess) 'The Answer's At The End' is still an excellent and under-rated song, riddled with guilt and self-loathing which must have been very hard for George to sing.
'This Guitar Can't Keep From Crying' was allegedly written in direct response to critics who reviewed the 'Dark Horse' album and tour and asked basically 'why bother? Just count your millions!') George's response through gritted teeth is that he's 'happier than he's ever been' (debatable), that laidback George is really 'highly strung' (up to a point but have you seen the other Beatles?!) and that fighting him is not going to bring out his better side ('Can't understand or deal with hate, responds much better to love'). George does provide one invention though: speaking about himself in the second person as if he's the 'instrument', which is both clever and unique with George inevitably a guitar (something he remarks on in the 'Dark Horse Years' DVD where he 'realised' that Eric Clapton could sound like Eric Clapton whatever instrument he played that the performer is in essence the music). However George does himself few favours with the actual song, which plods along slowly without any real passion in there and at times is downright ugly, the sourness of a particularly loud Willie Weeks bass track standing in opposition to the rest of the track throughout, as if merrily going about his own path oblivious to everyone around him. There is a little guitar on this track, but none of it is up loud and not much of it is very good, being swamped out by all the strings - perhaps that's the point, that George's creativity keeps being swamped out by the string-created 'fog' that seems to hang over not just this track but the whole album. As a song in its own right it would be a little bland and unmemorable, again repeating itself too many times for comfort (another common problem with this record). As a sequel to 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' it's a travesty: a song free of passion, excitement, energy or ideas. Listening to these tracks side by side you'd be hard pressed to guess which was written deliberately and which came about by 'accident' (with words plucked from a dictionary at random). Weirdly George picked this song in 1992 for a collaborative 'remix/re-recording' with Dave Stewart, although given the momentous changes in George's life by then the arrangement is actually remarkably similar.
'Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You)' suggests that George had been doing a lot of listening to Smokey Robinson on his time off - even more than the next LP's 'Pure Smokey' this song finds George finding his inner soul crooner, with better effect that on 'Answer'. A long goodbye to Patti, this time it's the lyrics that have little to say and the melody that just about says it all: a clever, sleepy hot-footed dance from one note to the next that manages to combine soul's usual strut with the sense that the narrator is unsettled and looking for something. 'I will be where you want me, I will try to keep you happy, if only you'll say you're my baby!' George croons, as if he believes that Patti is still his and all this mess with Eric Clapton is just a bad dream he had. Featuring the same achingly haunting romantic glimmer as 'Something' with the single-note focus of 'My Sweet Lord' George almost manages to fool himself and us that the pair are still madly in love. However there's something not quite 'right' about this performance, which starts off on an unexpected note in the chord which hangs mid-air for most of the song, waiting for a resolution that never comes (this track instead fades unexpectedly just as George has gone back to the chorus again). It's a question, this song, asking 'will you come back to me?' pretending it's an 'answer' - that she already has and everything is as it was before. Another reading of this song is that, like many a Harrison 'love' song its actually addresses to 'God' and that the fact that this song seems so 'wrong' is another comment on how out of sync with his religious feelings a boozy George was feeling. Another song that's so much better than reputation suggests.
We've spoken a few times on this site about the similarities between George Harrison and Cat Stevens albums - both men write spiritual, quasi-religious (if different religions) songs with a sort of earthy growl in them somewhere. 'World Of Stone' especially is pure Cat Stevens circa the 'Foreigner' period, stuffed full of three concurrent keyboard parts (piano, moog and organ) and talking about life in terms of a journey searching for a truth that's further down the road. George is doing his soul impression again as he sighs over being 'such a long way to go' and an uncaring world made of 'stone' that even his dedication and zealousy cannot overcome. Remembering just a few short years back when the sixties dream seemed to be about to become a reality George sighs that 'the wiser you can be the harder it may be to see a world full of stone'. Alas another promising lyric is undone by the fact that the verses and choruses are repeated too many times for comfort, that the melody is the wrong side of forgettable, that the performance is indifferent (just imagine how great that sudden swell of chords up to the end would have been if, say, The Who were playing it) and once again George is pretending to be someone he isn't. Despite the obvious promise in this song, it too is made of 'stone' - a blunt object randomly lashing out that's a long way from the spiritual lyrical precision of 'All Things Must Pass'.
'A Little Bit More Of You' is an even more pointless reprise of 'You' which comes without the words and simply features another loop of that irritating saxophone solo. The beginning and end fade takes so long that the song barely stays stable for fifteen of its 45 or so seconds, giving the not altogether unlikely feeling of two ships passing in the night and not quite connecting. Had the album started this way, as a tease before the full song appeared at the start of side two, it might have made more sense but this way round fans have already heard the 'good bits' already. If nothing else though it hints at how much of an 'obsession' George had about the past in this period and the person he's singing to in these 'You' songs, hence also next track...
'Can't Stop Thinking About You' is the most interesting of the four 'You' songs. The track is actually one first recorded for 'Dark Horse' and resurrected, having been written - according to 'I Me Mine' - over the course of Christmas 1973. The fact that it features the same besotted nature as the other 'You' songs would suggest that this is another song about Patti, but another fascinating alternative is that the time of writing coincides perfectly with George's supposed affair with Maureen Starkey (with typical wry Beatle humour, the only time George ever spoke about sleeping with one of his best friend's wives he dismissed it as 'incest'). Interestingly this is the one Harrison love song that's clearly about a person rather than God and about the narrator coming to rely on their physical presence. Mournful in the extreme, this slow sad ballad wanders a little too close to the superior 'So Sad' (perhaps the reason it was giving its marching orders from the 'Dark Horse' album where that track belongs) but is another under-rated track and perhaps George's best attempt at finding a 'soul groove'. Like much of the album the track is woefully repetitive, but here it fits: the narrator is obsessed, so inevitably he sings the chorus over and over, George finding new ways to sing it from despair to longing to hope. Indeed there's only really six lines to this whole song - most of them repeated - but together with the sleepy, hazy melody and unfocussed production the result is close to being hypnotic. This is another song Billy Preston would have done really well - and another track where George's most faithful of friends is notable by his absence.
By far the best song on the album, though, is 'Tired Of Midnight Blue'. By now George's melancholia is getting even to him and there's a certain get-on-with-it buzz about the performance, which isn't exactly 'upbeat' but does have more life in it than the other songs on the album. Recounting the tale of his grief in the terms of a comedy, George pitches events ridiculously over-the-top; perhaps playing with 'Here Comes The Sun' he imagines the solar rays surrounding his ex as she abandons him and the sun going in forever when she leaves. Feeling 'chilled to the bone', George wishes that he'd 'stayed home - with you', the song drawing up to a sudden standstill on that realisation, with that one word 'you' again forming something of a mantra across this record (again, though, note how cleverly ambiguous the song is - this could be another song about religion the way it's written here). Even this song palls after a while, its endless cycle of realisation and angsty debate seemingly without end and again five repeats of a pretty simple chorus is at least two too many. But for once both lyric and melody are pretty decent and make for a fascinating contrast: the lyrics are hopelessly sorry for itself and self-indulgent, but the music is undoing its sleeves and preparing to get on with it. Without even probably consciously thinking about it, this is George saying to himself 'I can't go on like this...' and it's here that the seeds of his future, happier albums are sown, however sorrowful the lyrics still are. In the context of the album 'Midnight Blue' is the one song that sounds as if it knows where its going and is deliberately crafted to sound good instead of blindly stumbling upon its brilliance. Thankfully that feeling is retained in easily the best performance on the album (the only decent performance in fact?) with a lively George pitching his performance nicely halfway between authentically sad and grimly upbeat. Harrison, in a rare interview to promote the album, told Paul Gambaccini it was about 'one of those rare nights when I decided to go out - and then wished I hadn't, although your take on those words is as good as mine.
'Grey Cloudy Lies' is another winner. George portrays himself as Rip Van Winkle, waking up from a glorious dream (his 'religious' years of 1970-1973 perhaps?) to find that the rest of the world has gone mad in his absence and against his warnings. At times George sounds like a schoolteacher, as he first sighs over the mess the world is in before ticking off the 'grey cloudy lies' that are causing everyone to 'go insane' (presumably the effects of the 'Material World' as per his 1973 album). Note that yet again George talks about his current state of affairs in terms of the weather: the sun has long gone, little darlin', and we're on our own without even 'cloudy skies' but 'cloudy lies', an illusion of his own making that he can't dispel with logic as he still believes it in his own heart. It could be that Friar Park looks ordinary without Patti, that the cold winter he's spending there alone seems all the colder without anybody around - or it could be that George is talking in spiritual terms again, feeling abandoned by a God that he's put so much faith in and still won't 'save' him (well not yet - luckily Olivia is round the corner). Another slow and befuddled performance can't get in the way of a second truly brilliant song, one that melodically suits the lyric again by pausing for breath every few bars as if looking around, warily, for the next battle the narrator is likely to be caught in unwillingly. The best production touch though is the hilarious croaking frog who parrots everything George says as if he's laughing at him. If this was one of the other Beatles I'd consider this merely a co-incidence, but George has done this sort of thing before (see the fake embarrassed laughter shamefully places after 'Within You Without You', apparently at his own request) and its perfectly fitting for a song about 'illusion' and being 'mistaken' (like 'The Answer's At The End', this track sounds like George suddenly waking up to how human and error-riddled his life has been, as messed up as any of the people he was writing about during 'All Things Must Pass'). George wants to tell us about the errors of all our ways - but he's self-deprecating enough to reflect that he's made so many mistakes before he probably has no right to tell us this either. A full-on keyboard onslaught by George himself sounds like Harrison is fighting to be heard, despite the fact that his vocal is up nice and loud in this mix in contrast to most others on the album, with another of the record's better band performances. That same interview with Paul Gambaccini gave a more 'straightforward' account of this song, recalling it as 'one of those 4 o'clock in the morning songs'. That's exactly what it sounds like, the sound of a man whose just realised how messed up his life is and willing the night to pass so that he can get on with the business of putting things right again. Another very under-rated clever song.
Good luck working out what on earth is going on with 'His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen)' though. On paper this song should make perfect sense: the duality of George's nature kicking in and making him end his saddest and bleakest album with a silly comedy novelty featuring one of his best and most supportive friends. Only 'Legs' doesn't sound particularly funny. Even given that the Bonzos' humour was the sort of thing you tended to intellectually laugh at rather than belly-chuckle over, it doesn't 'feel' like a silly song. George's melody is urgent, insistent and restless, hopping about from one foot to another and the moment when Larry Smith finally comes in some two-thirds of the way into the song is treated as if some big revelation is going to be made, complete with 'jazz hands' piano chords and what will in future years become known as 'Shanghai Surprise' 1930s horns. The fact that we weren't provided with any lyrics meant many fans were left scratching their heads over what they were supposed to think - and even now there's some debate about just how funny 'Legs' is meant to be. The lyrics is littered with Legs' Lennonish Goonidh sayings throughout: 'Dinky Doo' was a favourite catchphrase for 'yes', which is why 'everything he says is dinky doo' and his most famous saying is about 'oversitting' when you don't 'understand' something, while 'come Sikh come Tsar' is the one genuinely funny line in the song, a Smith-ism pun on the French phrase 'comme ci comme ca'. Other lines are apparently George's 'you can't slide on a rule' recalling the 'sliderule' so beloved of English classrooms and 'he should sing in a band, oh yeah' a nod of the head to a good friend. However this song is still not funny: the lines are hard to hear and while George may sing with the aggressiveness of some comedians (especially Liverpudlian comedians) he doesn't sing with the 'lightness' of his other comedy songs ('Miss O Dell' for instance, in which he gets the giggles, or fellow Bonzo Eric Idle's collaboration 'The Pirate Song', which sounds naggingly similar to 'My Sweet Lord'...) The ending, with multiple Legses delivering stage patter, is also curiously muddleheaded, as if George was making a point - but what is it? (That nobody is listening - to either of them? That it's not the lines that are funny but the man? That George needs comedy in his unfunny life - and doesn't care what the line are or even whether it's funny because its meant as escapism?) The lines are hard to decipher but seem to include Legs doing an impersonation of a ringing phone, telling us that he 'only came here to enjoy the central heating', getting the audience to promise there'll be 'no screaming' when the lights hit the stage, adding an almost accusatory 'we're having fun aren't we?' and apologising for leaving random pieces of furniture on random limbs. The Rutles was funnier, but then this isn't really a song about laughter despite being written by two genuinely funny writers.
Overall, then, 'Extra Texture' is a bit of a mess. Comedy songs that aren't funny, pop songs that are almost offensively empty and sequels that share little of what made the originals so great. There's a bit too much texture going on for my tastes with one massive overdub one top of another on a series of confused ballads that seem to get slower and slower across the record till finally writing themselves towards the end of side two. Some of these songs really are the nadir of George's canon - 'You' and 'A Bit More Of You' especially. And yet, the best of this album ('The Answer's At The End' 'Tired Of Midnight Of Blue' and 'Grey Cloudy Lies') is genuinely inventive, clever and moving, songs that could never have been written by anybody else except George Harrison, no matter how dented his confidence might suddenly be. Yes 'Extra Texture' is a heavy-going album, a sad record with none of the [peace of mind that usually comes from embracing George's work. But already in there somewhere, rattling around, is the answer to all of George's problems and despite all the worries and doubts over whether any of this album is of any value to anyone George comes up trumps again - the answer is always there in the end, it was just better buried than on his other LPs. Certainly no classic, but an under-rated album all the same.