Thursday, 29 April 2010
George Harrison "Living In The Material World" (1971) (Revised Review 2015)
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)/ Sue Me, Sue You Blues/The Light That Has Lighted The World/Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long/Who Can See It?/Living In The Material World//The Lord Loves The One That Loves The Lord/Be Here Now/Try Some, Buy Some/ The Day The World Gets Round/That Is All
"Not much giving in the material world!"
'Let's give this album a big hand!' 'Ok - how about a big orange one?!' Hands seem to play a big role on Beatles records, from the 'hand' that the narrator of The Beatles' breakthrough American hit wants to hold to the 'Paul Is Dead' rumours fuelled in part by comic Issy Bon's open palm above McCartney's head on the sleeve of Sgt Peppers', so its perhaps no surprise that the eerie ravioli-coloured hand writ large on this album's front cover comes with significance - it's just that nobody can decide just what. Some say its the Hindu sign Mudra, a hand gesture used whilst dancing to deter an onlooker's eyes away from the physical aspect of their dancing to concentrate more on the abstract ideas involved in the storyline, simultaneously charging the dancer with 'silent power'. The Hindu idol Shiva, simultaneously both the 'destroyer' and 'restorer' of worlds (which makes a lot more sense of where George got his duality from!) is often portrayed with an open palm like this, which followers think represents 'protection' or 'without fear' although it also looks like a cheery wave.
Others say that the open palm is a Buddhist shorthand for 'realisation', effectively saying 'I've got it!' My favoured religion, Jainism (which believes in equality for all life, including aliens) says it means simply 'please stop!' All these interpretations are apt for 'Living In The Material World', an album that's so packed with talk of spiritual growth that it's all a little bit heavy-going without the lightness of touch occasionally heard on 'All Things Must Pass' and serious all the way through, even when it's joking. It is in fact one of the most misunderstood AAA albums of them all, the point where George feels as if he's 'understood' his mission in life the most (to turn people onto a spiritual path and see through the material one) only to turn most of his fanbase away with the most hectoring lectures on religion. Many Harrison albums are records of two halves, where comedy and tragedy exists side by side, nestling amongst earthy rockers and spiritual quests as Harrison flexes all sides to his character. However 'Material World' features perhaps more duality than any other album, often on the same song. So busy are fans and critics going 'please, stop!' to the hardest going and certainly coldest Harrison album lyrically that fans often miss just how beautiful and warm this record is melodically.
I'm still not sure what I think about this hard to pin down album which seems to keep changing every time I play it. Sometimes it sounds genuinely inspired, with Harrison's simplest tunes like the three ballads at the heart of this record 'Give Me Love' 'That Is All' and 'Be Here Now' (yes it is where Oasis got the name from as they deliberately looked for a 'George' name to follow Wonderwall!)
sounding full of nuance and depth and purpose. The title track is hilarious: a plea for spiritual escape from Earthly suffering treated as a rock and roll plodder with sudden unexpected bursts of sunlight.
Other songs sound like the work of a man whose no longer afraid to show off the religious fervour he feels in his music, bravely taking on the establishment and saving our own souls at the same time. At other times these three named ballads sound full of empty platitudes, too simplistic to be of any help, the title track is an unfunny comedy that couldn't get off the ground if it had wings and the religious lectures are tiresome, offensive and rigid, without the discussion, debate and ambiguity of George's better religious songs. 'The Lord Loves The One That Loves The Lord', meanwhile, sounds awfully whatever mood I'm in: its message that it doesn't matter how good we are, if we don't pray to the right God we're doomed is unworthy of a talent who played a key role in helping the sixties rebellion outstretch the limits of religion, war, gender or class and is George's single mis-guided song since 'Piggies'. 'Material World' tries so hard to be spiritual, so full of airy light and heavy on the ballads that at time it threatens to blow away and yet this works against the album too, making it sound light and frothy rather than the epic it thinks it's being, actually working better the heavier the tracks become. A strongly spiritual album that's obsessed about money, an album about love that threatens vengeance if we don't return it in equal parts and an album that tries to pass on knowledge to the world while proudly boasting that only the author has 'got' it - what do you make of an album like this? Do I love it for trying to save our souls however occasionally misguided or do I hate it for assuming that our souls can only be saved in such a limited way? I've spent the best part of thirty years listening to this record off and on and I still don't feel as if I know it fully yet, becoming the album of George's that I've probably played most down the years because I keep feeling as if I've missed something. But is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is this a record worth pursuing because the answer will be there one day (expect an update if there is!) - or is it a dead-end that doesn't really say anything at all?
The record was certainly a short sharp shock for fans who simply expected to hear the warm aural bath of 'All Things Must Pass Volume Two' (as Apple were keen to promote the record) - especially given the lengthy two-and-a-half-year pause - and instead getting a funny mixture of a freezing cold shower and a Jacuzzi filled with bubble bath. Certainly this album shares some DNA with that all-singing all-dancing effort (its a similarly religious/spiritual experience, full of deep lyrics and tuneful tunes), but the difference is it's no longer singing or dancing but preaching. The loss of Phil Spector (George simply had so many arguments he couldn't face working with him again) is a major blow, turning George from a humble voice backed by the power of dynamite to becoming just a humble voice again. There are lots of tracks like ‘Who Can See It Now?’’Be Here Now’ and ‘That Is All’ where it’s hard to tell if anything’s going on at all – think ‘Blue Jay Way’ without the spookiness. I'd love to have known what Spector might have done to this album, although given the subtle bordering on empty performances here don't immediately make his echo-drenched work spring to mind. The cast of players has lessened a bit too, though some like Ringo and Gary Wright are still around, which subtly changes the sound too: the atmosphere has subtly shifted from a party to a sermon and I doubt there were any 'Apple Jam' sessions taking place this time once the tapes had stopped. Note too that while George seemed the most content of all four with his Beatles past on that last album he's now deeply uncomfortable about the whole thing, writing the savage 'Sue Me Sue You Blues' about the band's final years (a song bitter enough to make the vitriolic 'Wah-Wah' sound like a tickle with a feather) and mocking 'John and Paul' for 'living in the material world' (Ringo is mentioned simply as a hired hand who avoided the trap of luxury - I can't tell from the heavy thumps whether he's ecstatic about this thought or furious). 'All Things Must Pass' was the night out celebrating The Beatles' legacy and vowing to carry on the good work - but 'Material World' is the hangover the next morning, when the cold light of day hits George and he sees that nothing had changed, for him or for the world.
What people forget is that, first time round, this album actually outsold ‘All Things Must Pass’ until word of mouth caught up with it – that album was a triple set, after all, and priced as such whereas this was a handier, gatefold-sized single LP. You have to think that a good part of the sales came on the back of ‘Pass’ and ‘My Sweet Lord’ – but if so then its clear just how much fans hated this record, given that the follow-up ‘Dark Horse’ barely went top 30. You see, fans seem to hate this album nowadays. Like ‘Dark Horse’ and ‘Extra Texture’ its seen as a pale shadow of George’s talents, a huge let down after the almost casual brilliance of almost every track on the main section of ‘Pass’ (Apple Jam bonus disc aside) and not quite up to the fans-know-them-but-the-casual-public-had-given-up-by-then albums of ’33 and 1/3rd’ the under-rated ‘Somewhere In England’ and ‘Gone Troppo’ and the superlative ‘George Harrison’ (see review no 74). Even some forty-five years on the figures say it all – just before George died a major re-release of ‘Pass’ got greeted with fanfares and a chart entry; even the ‘Concert For Bangladesh’ just after his death did better than expected but ‘Material World’ was a non-charting flop, even with some interesting bonus tracks the second time around. The truth of the album is – not for the first or last time on this site – somewhere in between. ‘Material World’ is never going to be your favourite George Harrison record, with or without the Beatles and Traveling Wilburys included in that list, but it's also a lot better than it's often given credit for being, with many fans not getting part the hectoring song titles. It's a record in serious need of a re-appraisal, full of some of the loveliest moments of any of George’s works without any of them quite lingering for long enough to make one knock-out track. The fact that an album could still so well though, despite the poor reviews and what must be alongside the later 'Extra Texture' one of the most confusing and least palatable Beatles-related covers in history (a hand embedded with a Hare Krishna logo we can’t quite read and something that looks like ravioli laid in on top) merely shows how badly the world wanted another really good George Harrison record in 1973.
George’s private life wasn’t helping either. He should have been one of the happiest man on the planet in this period – after so many years of sniping comments from Lennon and general indifference from McCartney he’d been able to record his songs the way he wanted to, as often as he wanted to and as perfection-obsessed as you feel George had always naturally been away from the let’s-get-George’s-songs-done-early-so-we-can-spend-time-on-the-singles formula The Beatles used for most of their career. What’s more, George had been proved right – his singles and album releases of 1970 were by light years the best-selling of any ex-Beatle that year (it’s #1 chart position that Christmas contrasts greatly with McCartney’s #2 that April and Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band which barely went top 10 the same month, not to mention the non-charting Sentimental Journey from Ringo) and his late-period Beatle classics ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’ were the songs from Abbey Road that everyone liked (in contrast, most people hated the Long Medley back then – I still do even though most people rate it highly now – and thought songs like ‘Come Together’ and ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ showed how badly Lennon and McCartney had lost the plot). Add the well received by just about everybody ‘concert for Bangladesh’ (George’s most famous moment as an ex-Beatle) and George should have been on top of the world.
But by 1971, just as his short-term bitterness about The Beatles was fading (just listen to 'Apple Scruffs'!) he was back at Apple, the prison of The Beatles’ making that George must have thought he’d escaped once already. George spent at least as much time across 1971 and 1972 in court or endless business meetings about the break-up as he did making music 0 inevitably it was going to show in his music. For the record, though Lennon was the main instigator of the law suit (bringing in Allen Klein against Paul's wishes, who was later found out for the crook he was), he realised he was onto a bad thing and simply stopped going to court; Ringo, alarmed at how badly his friends were being torn apart, dropped out early on too, but seeing things through to the end was a Harrison trait (that grumpy walk-out on 'Let It Be' being the exception) and he turned up more often than most. However it wasn't simply the court case that unsettled him most but the bad blood between those who had hitherto basically been brothers. Let’s not forget, the fall out between the Beatles wasn’t just a shame for the four on musical levels – these were people who, Ringo aside, had believed in each other and looked after each other since the late 1950s and who, despite Lennon’s sharp tongue, had never had a serious falling out until 1968. These were George’s closest friends who were rowing at each other across the table and although he hardly ever talked about it (even on the Anthology doc) its probably fair to say that George felt the fallout much more than he ever let on in public. That wasn't all: George’s mother also died in this period – Harrison’s last release before this album was the ‘Bangla Desh’ single in 1972 and its B-side ‘Deep Blue’, about the loss of his mum Louise, must be one of the saddest, loneliest, fed up songs ever written (thankfully its restored to its proper place at the end of this album on the CD re-issue, along with fellow refugee B-side ‘Miss O’Dell which, despite the singer developing the giggles partway through, is probably the best of his B sides).
George’s marriage to wife Patti was also crumbling at a rate of knots – you only have to read her autobiography to get an (admittedly one-sided, but that’s autobiogs for you and this one’s fairer than most) picture of how much George changed in this period from humble spiritual personable gardener to distant, obsessive recluse and its clear that something was very much on George’s mind. Patti blames part of this change on drugs and part of this change on just how deeply George was getting into religion – all sorts of religions, although Hare Krishna usually came first in George’s eyes. She recounts that nervous friends would phone up Friar Park rather than popping round to see how George was. 'Is is his hand on the prayer beads today?' they would ask, 'Or in the dope?' (notice that elusive 'hand' image coming into play again, as if George is grasping for one or the other - or both - in this period), loving one and fearing the other - although funnily enough which one switched round the more George got into both extremes.
To deal with the drugs first, its notable that it's this album where George revives an abandoned song intended for Phil's wife Ronnie Spector (of The Ronettes) for an album she was making on Apple in 1968. 'Try Some, Buy Some', not specifically about drugs but very much about addiction, never sounded right in her voice so George kept it for himself and doesn't seem to have bothered working on the song throughout the lengthy sessions for 'All Things Must Pass'. It's a tragic song: the narrator is adamant that he doesn't want to try something, his friends gradually wear him down against his will and while he enjo0ys it at first he finds himself addicted, wishing he's carried on saying no. While it's actually a truer reflection of Paul's experience in The Beatles than George's (the last to try the drug but the first to go public), is its revival here after so many years because George genuinely wants to cut it out from his life and turn to religion as his main drive and purpose? For it has to be said 'Material World' is a very religion-biased album even though it never actually tells us which religion George means (it seems safe to mean George is referring to Hindu-ism given a reference to Sri Krishna on the title track, although the Hare Krishna-spin off group and Buddhism are other religions he dabbled in across the 1960s and 1970s too). There aren’t that many ‘religious’ albums around in rock and roll and all its extended forms (and most of those around have something to with George anyway) and, like Cat Stevens after him, while many fans were willing to stand by George for a few more albums yet, most of the general public decided to bale out pretty darn quick. True, many of the songs on ‘Pass’ are about religion or at least spiritual needs and feelings – ‘The Art Of Dying’, for instance, is practically the only song about the specifically religious idea of incarnation on a mainstream record. But most of the references to religion are subtle – George could be talking about the love he gets from a partner most of the time and when he isn’t he’s telling us just why he needs religion so. The only exception that comes right out and says it is closing track ‘Hear Me Lord’ and even that songs gets away with it because it just feels so right – after a double album of troubles it seems natural to hear George’s narrator calling out for spiritual guidance. The 'problem' (for listener, if not creator) is that by leaving that song as a 'solution' on that last record and calling out for guidance from above, George can't very well turn round and ignore it when it came (at least so George had it) or not tell us about it. However throughout the record the quest sounds a deeply personal one and one that no one else should be hearing - the album really going downhill when George decides to tell us all what to do to become like him (which is bordering on bullying, the very opposite of spiritual salvation and reflecting everyone's unique paths to God or not). That's the central problem with 'Material World' and the reason it doesn't quite work - George delays the album as long as he can and tries to write about as many other things as he can, but religion fills up all parts of his life now except the time he's haranguing or being harangued by lawyers and attorneys and besides he really wants us to know what he's feeling.
The problem with ‘World’ is that we aren’t experiencing the revelations at the same rate as George is – we’re hearing it in flashback, with George attempting to teach – some would say lecture – about how he reached the point he is at now where he's never sounded happier. Only there's two major issues with this: George ends up sounding not unlike the 'oh go arrrhn' friend trying to get us to try something new on 'Try Some, Buy Some', while the whole point of the song is that we should be brave enough to stick with our instincts and convictions. Also, the loss of the enthusiastic backing (which made even the sadder songs on 'Pass' sound lively) and the presence of the grumpy and bitter pair of songs kicking The Beatles and the lack of love songs as George distances himself from Patti means he doesn't sound in a good place across this record. 'Material World' is a sad sounding album, bordering on depressed. Even the hope and promise heard on 'Give Me Love' ends on a sour downward note twist, as if the narrator already fears he's been forgotten. After the frustration of being lectured by one who prided himself on treating people as an equal (or at least that was The Beatles motto in general) it doesn’t matter how many wonderful and enlightening couplets we get (and there are many – this album has been a joy to find ‘key lyrics’ for this week, unlike some others I’ve done recently) or how exhilaratingly wonderful most of the melodies are for this album, the listener has shut off his ears and the messages won’t get through. As I’ve said on many a Harrison and Cat Stevens review, the religious content is only a problem for an album when we feel that the only point of a song’s existence is for the narrator to shake his head pompously at people who don’t think like him, rather than say 'ooh what a wonderful world we're living in - my eyes have been opened!'
Despite what you may have read on the handful of reviews this album ever got then and since, George only drops the ball seriously once on this album – the rest of the religious songs on this record like 'The Light That Has Lighted The World' and the spiritual parts of the title track would be alright on their own, if a little blander than other later Harrison religious songs. However ‘The Lord Loves The One That Loves The Lord’ is such an oddball, so diametrically opposed to the everybody-equal, respect-everyone’s-rights-and-live-in-harmony George that we’re used to hearing that it colours the rest of the album and makes everything that comes after (and before if you're brave enough to play the album again) sound like a sermon, with innocent 'us' cast as the baddies. The title track too pleads to be taken away from the horrors of this world - and us too - seemingly oblivious to the idea that there might be other fans as deserving of being 'saved' (there are lots of Hindu Beatles fans after all, many of them converted by George himself). Compare this to the last song addressed directly to fans ('Apple Scruffs, how I love you!') and it's a sea change even though George's motivation is probably more that he currently 'hates' the Beatles than that he 'hates' Beatle fans; yet that's how it sounds. Add to this the fact that only one song doesn’t mention religion at all - and that's the decidedly grumpy ‘Sue Me Sue You Blues’ – and its no surprise why this album has the unloved reputation it currently does. And yet the genuine awe heard in ‘Give Me Love’ and ‘Be Here Now’ show how strong this album could have been had George let us in quietly on his hidden secret instead of wanting to use his album to preach to the world. For despite my issues with one or two of the songs there is much to savour on this album, most of it subtle, all of it appearing only gradually. George’s melodies have rarely been better and his instinct for a hook rarely deserts him, while some of the lyrics (notably the title track) are clever - as clever as anything .
Overall, then, 'Material World' isn't a great or a classic album - no album that features 'The Lord Loves The One' could ever be that, whilst some of the tracks here 'Don't Let Me Wait Too Long' and 'Who Can See It?' are a little forgettable, even compared to the simple songs that will only grow on you after several playings ('Be Here Now', the gorgeous 'That Is All', even the album's hit single 'Give Me Love'., which is less immediate but perhaps longer-lasting in the psyche than better known cousin 'My Sweet Lord') However it is a record that, unlike the run of three albums to come, are nevertheless inspired and could have been capable of greatness had George been in a happier mood, been less distracted by business meetings, swallowed his pride enough to call Phil Spector back and given a couple of the worst songs here short shrift.
 ‘Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)’ is the best known song on the album and it may well be the best on the album as a whole. It did pretty well in the charts (it might not have reached the #1 of ‘My Sweet Lord’ but it out-performed follow-up ‘What Is Life?’) and must have persuaded a few punters to give this album a go with its quiet haunting beauty and slide guitar riff (another reason for this album’s supposed failure I forget to mention – there’s hardly any guitar playing at all, this is very much a piano-led album). The lyrics are a delight, with their short-hopping scansions giving this song a bounciness that contrasts well with its overall air of desperation and misery. George calling out to his maker for guidance might not be to everyone’s taste, but the humbled little-boy-lost-in-the-mix beginning is so touching and so in contrast to the epicness of everything on ‘Pass’ that it really does catch the listener and sweep them up in the song. The production could have been better – the song surges at the end of the first long verse as if it’s about to build but the repeat of the chorus simply ducks down in the mix again – but the words are quite clever and witty and the melody is very lovely indeed.
 ‘Sue Me Sue You Blues’ is such a different song it’s hard to believe it’s by the same person, but then George had already been a bit of a split personality in The Beatles (just contrast the lovestruck ‘Something’ with the acerbic ‘Taxman’ for instance – in hindsight its amazing that George got as far as his final, posthumous album ‘Brainwashed’ to tell us about his split Piscean personality). This song is the elder, more grownup brother of ‘Don’t Bother Me’, as rather than an almost childish insistence on having space and time to one’s self its agonising over all the people demanding his time. The song was inspired, of course, by that big Beatle fall-out we were talking about earlier and you can easily imagine George – forced to cut off recording sessions for this album after yet another hurry-up call from a lawyer – writing this song in the back of a taxi, desperate to get back to the spiritual matters of this record. Unlike ‘Wah-wah’ it doesn’t attack his fellow Beatles or let out much needed steam, it just kind of grumbles along until he runs out of things to say and the track actually carries on without him for the lengthy fade out (this long song goes on for at least two minutes more than it needs to – which is probably the whole point, given George’s reaction to having to go to yet another troubled business meeting, especially the false ending going into the last verse when Ringo – surely not?! – kickstarts the song off again just as it was coming to some sort of a resolution). Despite the off-hand and rather lowly mixed vocal, which rather admits to George’s disinterest in the whole thing, instrumentally the whole record crackles with tension, with the twinkling keyboards, crashing piano chords, sprightly pedal steel and booming Ringo drums all competing for space and trying to be heard at once, just like the four Beatles-plus-lawyers round a table (you only have to listen to the chatty Beatles press conferences from the early years to realise what an unfriendly Beatles business meeting would have been like). The lyrics, too, are quite clever – George talks about getting together ‘a new band’ so that he doesn’t have to have these hassles any more (who’dve guessed in 1971 that he meant The Traveling Wilburys with the troublesome Dylan and the withdrawn Roy Orbison who all seemed to get along genuinely well during the making of their two albums) and treats the whole thing as some sort of bizarre dance, with ex-Beatles swapping affadavits and legal papers in some sort awful ritual they all have to go through. Like Lennon’s ‘God’ and McCartney’s ‘Too Many People’ this song is evidence of just how final the Beatles’ break-up was (given how they were all feeling in 1970 at least – relationships thawed quite quickly come the mid 70s), although like Ringo’s sweet B-side ‘Early 1970’ this is less a painful damning diatribe than a desperate attempt to get the whole Beatles experience back on an even keel again so George can forget it and move on.
 ‘The Light That Has Lighted The World’ is George pre-empting reaction to this troubled album, about how other people will say that he’s ‘different’ now he’s found religion and how he feels he’s found a lovely secret that other people can find if only they open their hearts to it instead of dismissing him and his ideas so readily. The trouble is, no one had actually condemned George for his religious views yet, well not seriously anyway, most fans were fairly supportive until this album came out and George does himself no favours by assuming this early on that his audience are too narrow minded to listen to his words. That’s a shame because the heart of this song – people’s reluctance to accept change – is a good one and will go on to be one of George’s best solo songs in ‘See Yourself’ ( a now sadly forgotten song from 33 and 1/3rd). This melody, too, is lovely – just look at the way George’s grumpy lyrics keep casting his voice downwards into a spiral downwards that only lifts upward to the sky when he sings the title line, a moment that really gives you goose-bumps the first time you hear it, religious believer or not. But like many songs on this album, the muted production places the emphasis on all the wrong things – George’s cracking voice (that’s cracking in the sense of breaking, not the Wallace and Gromit exclamation), the piano accompaniment that seems to be playing at half speed (successfully conjuring up the troubles of the song, its true, but it does sap all life out of quite a promising tune) and the rather loud guitar solo which tries too hard to convince us this is a ‘conventional’ George song when every bone in our body is telling us how unusual and remarkable everything about this song is. Uncomfortable listening for a number of reasons, not least because this short song seems so much longer than its running time and because it makes such poor use out of all the great things it has going for it.
 ‘Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long’ pulls the opposite trick – this is a fun, upbeat, A hard Day’s Night-era slice of Merseybeat which doesn’t actually have a lot to say. The ‘old’ George might have tackled this song well – but the 1971 George just sounds too full of troubles to give the song the fun and exuberance it needs. It’s as if George wrote this song with a lot of fun in mind in Eric Clapton’s garden (like ‘Here Comes The Sun’) and then had to record it an hour before another horrendous Apple business meeting. It sounds on first hearing as if this is the album’s only straightforward love song, but when you analyse it this, too, is another of George’s religious songs, impatient to get closer to the God the narrator believed in and wondering what great things might be in store for him now that he ‘understands’ the purpose of life better. George is clever at disguising the message though – this is the sort of ambiguous, read-it-how-you-feel-it that made up a great deal of ‘All Things Must Pass’ successfully and ‘World’ might have been better to have had more tracks like this onboard.
 ‘Who Can See It?’ is another of those Harrison songs that just takes the listener too much for granted. It’s a slow, mournful ballad with another great melody that’s just lost under the sea of self-pity going on in George’s vocal and the peculiar mix and arrangement, which somehow manages to be huge and claustrophobic and completely empty at the same time. There is, for instance, a quite lovely string and brass accompaniment going on in there somewhere but you can barely hear it – although, on second thoughts, that might just be George’s subtle interpretation of his own lyrics (his narrator is too caught up in his own problems and – like the rest of humanity – doesn’t seem to realise all the great spiritual paths going on just out of reach, represented by those strings and horns. No? Well, just a thought). Interestingly, George talks about being ‘let down’ in such a way that he sounds like he means it and yet none of the other lyrics shed much light on this – does he mean his wife, his band, his God, all three or something else? Troubled as this song is, and patronising as some of its ideas are (‘I can see quite clearly...’ and, presumably, the rest of us can’t), I forgive everything for that fantastic melody line. Slow it down by another smidgeon, play it on George’s beloved slide guitar and it could almost be ‘Marwa Blues’, the truly moving instrumental from Harrison’s posthumous album ‘Brainwashed’.
Side one then ends with the title track  'Living In The Material World', which is a second strong candidate for my favourite on the album. George’s witty, sarcastic side comes to the fore here, laughing at the whole of the human race – including himself – for getting so caught up with facts and figures and bits of paper that only count as currency because humans en masse agree that they are with a vocal caught halfway between exuberance and depression. Ringo’s guesting drums make their second appearance on this second Beatles business-derived track and the drummer even gets a mention in the middle (Ringo’s real name of Richard – Ritchie to his friends and fellow Beatles – joins them for a tour after the Beatles ‘started off quite poor’), getting off rather better than his fellow Beatles (‘John and Paul live in the material world’, a line spoken more in sadness than anger and probably derived from yet another Beatles meeting). Listen out too for the rhyme of ‘born in the material world/worn out in the material world’ – clever stuff, putting George right at the heart of the song instead of blaming the mess of the world on the listener as so often happens on this record. The best part of this song is the fleeting middle eight, though, which is classy stuff indeed – the religious, spiritual world peeks out through the song for just a few seconds and its beautiful, with a welcome return of the sitar (the first time one of George’s songs had used one since 1967 – and the last for another 20 years, sadly), flutes and tablas. So different is this sound to the booming, almost 50s rock of the song’s verses (Lennon must have been influenced by this track for his ‘Sometime In New York City album of 1972 – the musicians here even sound like Elephant’s Memory – and not many bands ever sounded like Elephant’s Memory let’s face it!) that it sounds like a genuine revelation and – for a fleeting moment – we get what George is trying to tell us on the rest on the album, with the singer treating us at the end of side one to what’s been going on in his head. The ending of the song, which ends like a comedy with its sudden rat-tat-a-tats as if George is doing a Morecambe-and-Wise comedy dance back to his dressing room, is also a clever trick, underlying the absurdity of the material world we live in. Now perhaps George’s estate could give me back the £10 I paid for this album in the material world and I’d be happy.
Alas side two starts off with the dreaded  ‘The Lord Loves The One That Loves The Lord’. Let’s look at the positives first: there’s a classic line about mankind thinking they ‘own’ the planet that was ready made for them and that our pompous leaders are ‘acting like big girls’ (sadly as true today as it was in 1971). There’s also another strong tune here once we move onto the sort-of second group of verses (its got a curious structure this one, a sort of ABC, ABC format without the traditional firm verse-chorus-middle eight) which might have made for a great song in it’s own right. But oh that main lyric: you may have noticed already that I’m not particularly religious (although I’m erring on the side of the Jainists, the extension of Buddhism that believes in peace, equality and that God was a space and time-travelling alien), but I’d never be able to lecture others onto my beliefs in the way this lyric does. Even the accompaniment sounds like some sort of stern matron, with the twinkly piano we heard in the last track replaced by a sort of chugging head-hanging cloud that just filters through the whole track. Harrison doesn’t help by sounding like he’s delivering a sermon, scaring all the little children with the tales of Hell and damnation our primary school used to think was right for all the under-11s without any reason other than fear to convert us. And George has picked on the section of religion that I swear I’ve never ever understood despite paying attention in all 11 years of my RE classes, honest: how can an accepting, understanding God who wants to help us overcome the sins of our own making (as in the New Testament) only accept us if we believe and support Him, otherwise He’ll turn his vengeance on us (as per the Old Testament). I fully get the ‘if you don’t give then you don’t get loving’ bit – it’s a kind of class assembly version of the international Beatles anthem ‘All You Need Is Love’ after all – but surely loving your fellow human beings and helping them overcome their mistakes and prejudices is worth more than blind faith? Perhaps I’ve strayed off the point here – and I can’t wait for the replies to this issue – but it all seems a bit mean-spirited to me and surely the point of spirituality is to rid yourself of all the mean qualities within you (and without you, ie the material world as in the last track). A difficult, heavy going track for pretty much all George’s fans, this tracks’ notoriety among Beatlemaniacs is sadly well placed.
Hear a track like the next one,  ‘Be Here Now’, though and it all makes a sort of sense. This gorgeous song of awe and wonder is as close as we ever get to hearing George explaining his faith in words and music and its surely no coincidence that it follows the last track as a sort of post-explanation (I just wish it came first and I might have been more willing to listen to it). Like many of George’s late-period Beatles tracks, its a humbled quiet track boiled down to its absolute basics, as if to get as close to the heart of the matter as possible (I absolutely adore George’s White Album track Long Long Long – my second favourite Beatle track of all Beatle fans even though hardly anybody knows about it – and its very similar to this track with its timid attempt to strip all of mankind’s spiritual quest into two or three very short verses. It’s almost like a haiku poem in its clipped speech and phrases, with an overall message telling us to let go of our hang-ups from the past and our worries about the future and embrace the present. Whatever’s happening in our lives, says George, it’s not what it was before – it’s all new experiences that help us feel alive and keep us in touch with our ‘creator’. For once this album’s muted production values work to the benefit of the song and with only a one-note churchy organ, some strummed guitar and a three-part George vocal to listen to we really hear and take in the words. A quiet triumph and the album’s third best song. Fellow AAA members Oasis liked the idea so much they stole it for the title of their third album (Noel Gallagher must have really have liked obscure Harrison solo albums, what with ripping off the title of ‘Wonderwall’ as well).
 ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ has an odd history. Back in the late Beatles days when George still had a vague interest in the other artists on Apple he joined Ringo and our old friend Stephen Stills in helping to cut a solo album by soul singer Doris Troy (you might not have heard of her, but I bet you own a record she’s on – she was on everything in the late 60s/early 70s, including some George Harrison records). George gave her song, then very much a work in progress, although I’m not quite sure why – it doesn’t sound like George’s handiwork much but it certainly doesn’t sound like Doris’ work at all. When the album bombed, George reclaimed it and – according to one article I read on the net – re-used the backing track, merely wiping her vocal with his. That lengthy story might explain why this song sounds so badly out of place on this album – it has the same kind of brassy glare of ‘Pass’ simply because that’s where George’s head was at the time (it may well have been produced by Phil Spector too). Yet taken on its own merits it’s not a bad song and its tale of a naive young George accepting other people’s words about things fits this album’s themes well. The opening verse, about trying and then buying wo-o-o-o-o-ah, is surely about drugs and its interesting to note that George talks about throwing them away once he ‘opens my eyes and I saw you’ (so must the last verse, about ‘getting high, saw friends die’). Most Beatle books – especially the extremely dodgy Geoffrey Guilliano ones – reckons George was at his most drug-addled in this period, as perhaps seen by the slow tempos and confused air of this album, although George might well be telling the truth – certainly getting off drugs is never easy (cue any John Lennon lyric in this period) and may have accounted for his particular anger at the ‘material world’ for getting him into this mess in the first place. Anyway, back to the song – you can tell it wasn’t written for George given the way it veers from deep growl to high falsetto and even though I adore George’s voice (I love it for the very feebleness other people attack him for – its’ always perfectly in keeping with his lyrics) even I must admit he doesn’t have as much of a range as this song demands. It also doesn’t quite tie up – the rather giddy middle section, ostensibly about the spiritual world again, sounds more like the confused and painful drug rush he warns about in the first verse than a narrator thinking clearly. For all its faults, though, this is at least a song that goes out of its way to chase after the listener and the opening hook really makes you sit up and listen, so unexpected is it sandwiched between two of the slowest tracks on the record.
 ‘The Day The World Get’s Round’ is effectively ‘Be Here Now’ part two, albeit this time it’s George looking round for a time when the rest of the world learns what he knows to be true rather than experiencing it first-hand himself. As before, my sticking point is in being told what to do and think by anyone, even someone as spiritually aware and kindly as George (especially with lines like ‘I’m working so very hard because I don’t want to be like you’ – I hope he’s talking about his warmongering politicians again but I have a sneaking feeling he’s thinking about some of his fans as well), although this song makes a much better fist of converting me thanks to it’s lovely melody and rather less painful lyrics. The pun in the title – the world is already round of course, what George means is ‘the word gets round’, but its a neat pun on the idea that we spent centuries on a world thinking it was flat when the truth was beneath our feet the whole time – is clever indeed and the idea of the spiritual warmth George feels is enough to coax one of this album’s best vocals out of him, angry and awed at the same time. The lovely slow, lilting melody is stop-starty in all the right places, suggesting the obstacles George and his spiritual friends will have to overcome in the ‘material world’ but with enough momentum going on that you sense that they’ll eventually overcome them. A sort of half-triumph, this could have been a showstopper with a different theme.
 ‘That Is All’ sounds on paper like a rather dismissive send off – ‘that is all I want to say’ sounds more like something Britney Spears would say than our George. But I really like this track – George can’t bring himself to find any other words because he’s already overwhelmed by the mystical beauty and insight into life that he’s received. Going back to telling us his own personal experience brings out the best of Harrison on this album and its certainly a lot more appealing as a track than ‘The Lord Loves The One...’. Again, like ‘Be Here Now’, its a slow quiet understated song without much happening at all – when George’s cutting slide guitar cuts in near the end it sounds really jagged and jarring, even though he only plays about five notes – but that makes perfect sense in the context of the song, which is about how everything is happening to the narrator and he can’t work out which selection of the many things happening to him to tell us about. Beatles fans might be left scratching their heads, but taken on its own merits this is a lovely, refreshing song that tells us everything we need to know about what was happening to George Harrison in 1971.
So, whatever world you hear this in – spiritualist haven or material splendour, ‘Living In The Material World’ is not an easy album to appreciate or understand. Even some keen Beatles fans so into the band they own all of Ringo’s solo albums seem to have a hard time with this record and to some extent the messages here are only going to be preaching to the converted – the people who, like George, think they know where their spiritual paths are going. The trouble is, the rest of us aren’t given much in the way of a guide to getting there – George’s songs are traditionally enlightening (or at least they are from the time of what I consider his big break through with Revolver’s ‘Love You Too’) but that’s because, up to now, George has been stumbling blindly in the dark with the rest of us. 1971 seems to be the year that George found what he was searching for but, unlike Cat Stevens who gave up the music business when he found his religious goal, Harrison is still struggling to put his discoveries into music and for the most part leaves us all behind. Where this album succeeds is the tracks where George stops telling us to follow him and what will happen to us if we don’t and just quietly drops his guard and says ‘wow, it’s all a bit overpowering isn’t it?’ Had the album had more tracks like these – the humble desperation of ‘Give Me Love’, the awed aura of ‘be Here Now’ and the fun leg-pulling of the title track – we’d have been looking at one of George’s strongest albums. And yet even the worst and most didactic tracks on this album have so much melody and so many little hidden plus points that you could gladly spend hours looking for all of them. A patchy, confusing little record then, but one I’m very fond of almost despite myself and one I’d never part with no matter how much I’m offered for it in the ‘material world’ (where it’s worth quite a bit on vinyl I understand).