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George Harrison follows up 'All Things' with a classic album,
This review is from: Living in the Material World (Audio CD)
In 1971 George Harrison released the excellent and hugely successful 'All Things Must Pass' - his first solo album (excluding the 'Wonderwall' soundtrack and the failed experiment with 'Electronic Sound' both recorded prior to the Beatles break-up). 'My Sweet Lord' was the massive, and controversial, hit from that album. (Listen to 'Isn't It a Pity' for the standout track.) After the major success of 'All Things' the question was could George repeat the feat with his 2nd album - 'Living in The Material World' (1973)?
Although he wasn't as strong or confident a singer as John and Paul there was a haunting wistfulness in George's voice that really gave his music a quality that the other two wouldn't match. Just as George couldn't compete with them when it came to belting out rockers so they wouldn't have conveyed the emotion that he did on his first 2 solo albums. For me, the slow ballads were George's strength - his serious reflections on life, fame and spirituality.
There are several standouts on 'Material World' including 'The Light That Has Lighted The World' - a song about resisting change which is melodically strong if lyrically dark. Nicky Hopkins' piano is just outstanding and George shows how far he has developed his guitar skills. In his book 'The Music of George Harrison - While My Guitar Gently Weeps' (a recommended read with many observations, insights, technical comments on the GH songs) Simon Leng says that the song is "not quite fully realised as there is no chorus, and no hook to fix the piece in the mind." I can't accept that - if we really need all of the music that we enjoy to conform to stereotype construction then we should stick to throwaway pop and forget about talented songwriters like GH who are prepared to try something different occasionally - the only question to ask is 'does it work?'. In this case there is no debate. It has no chorus because George didn't want one in and the song does 'fix' in the mind very quickly - it's really excellent - the album's magnum opus.
'Who Can See It' is another ballad which has an unusually complex construction (George brought lots of ideas into his music from his study of Indian instruments and rhythms) but it's such a great piece that it all falls into place very quickly and the haunting vocals just stop you in your tracks. Listen to it without any distractions (get those headphones out) - let the emotions take hold and you might just have to wipe away a tear at the end. This must be George's strongest ever vocal performance - the beautiful line "..... my life belongs to me, my love belongs to who can see it' is presumably the ex-Beatle talking about his desire to step back out of the public gaze - after the traumatic years of hysteria which he so detested. In his book 'I Me Mine' George says that this song reminds him of Roy Orbison. You can tell what he means when you listen to the rising lyrics but Roy would never have got near the emotion that George's vocals convey here.
'That is All' is yet another lovely ballad - nothing too introspective or dark here, just a love song with an interesting construction and a fuller sound. 'Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)' was the monster hit single from the album - 'Don't Let Me Wait Too Long' would have been another had it been released as a 45. 'Sue Me, Sue You Blues' doesn't work for me but GH gets to display his skills with the dobro. 'Try Some Buy Some' is dismissed by Simon Leng as an 'obvious filler track' (it has the lush Spector treatment which is out of kilter with the mood of the album) but it works and that is all we can ask!
Rolling Stone called the album "drearily monochromatic" - were they offended by some of the sentiments perhaps? George Harrison dealt neatly with some of the critics "they feel threatened when you talk about something that isn't be-bop-a-lula". The best response to the critics was provided by the album's success - over 3 million copies sold worldwide to go with the No. 1 single.
Listen to the whole set and ask yourself how such a talent was stifled during the latter Beatle years when he was made to feel so inferior to the Lennon / McCartney double act that he was nervous and hesitant about offering his own compositions to the band ('Something' and 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' were both turned down initially).
This album saw George emerge as the complete article - song writer, singer and guitarist (there's no Eric Clapton to help out) and it beggars belief to think that he wasn't given more room for creativity in the Beatles. John and Paul must have been blown away when they heard this - if you haven't heard it you should do so immediately. If it is a distant memory from 30 years ago then buy the CD and get to know it again - you won't regret it!