George Harrison was always my favorite Beatle. Even though his pals Lennon and McCartney got the lion's share of the attention back in those days, there was just always something really cool about George's quiet intensity I really liked. So after the Beatles broke up, there was nobody happier than me for George when he — albeit, very briefly — became the most commercially successful ex-Beatle.
Harrison didn't just score back to back chart-topping albums with his first two post-Beatle sets, both of them were triple albums. That's three-record sets. Nobody did three-record sets back then, not even the Beatles themselves. Hell, nobody does three-record sets now.
But All Things Must Pass, powered by "My Sweet Lord," the single he would later be sued for plagiarism over, was a bona fide smash. Not long after, George Harrison's media profile would also soar when he put together the all-star benefit Concert For Bangla Desh, which would spawn yet another best selling three-record set.
But let's get back to All Things Must Pass, for a second. This was truly a great record, and it still holds up quite well today. In addition to its two best known songs, "My Sweet Lord" and "Isn't It A Pity," there are plenty of other gems spread over those three original records. "Wah-Wah," "Beware Of Darkness," "What Is Life," and the list just goes on and on. Of all the post Beatles solo albums — and as much as I love Lennon's Plastic Ono Band and most of McCartney's stuff with Wings — that first Harrison album remains the most consistent and satisfying of the lot.
Which is why, at the time, its studio followup, Living In The Material World, seemed like such a letdown. Not that it was a bad album, because it wasn't. But after an opus like All Things, the record just seemed really — and how can I put this? — well, small. Although the record sold well, it didn't do near the numbers of its predecessor. A lot of people felt George had pretty much shot his creative wad with All Things Must Pass.
The concert tour he embarked on a short time later — the first ever by an ex-Beatle — didn't help matters much either. By the time the tour arrived for a stop in Seattle, George had pretty much blown his voice out and for the entire concert it sounded more like Tom Waits singing the songs than George. If memory serves me correctly, several later shows had to be cancelled because of George's chronic throat problems.
But in all fairness, Harrison set the creative bar pretty high with All Things Must Pass, and I'm not sure anything could really have followed it up. So after some thirty years, I've decided to come back and give Living In The Material World another try.
The new remastered version is pretty cool, too. It comes in a nice box, with a nice booklet filled with lots of nice pictures, lyrics, and handwritten notes. There's also a bonus DVD with four tracks, although the only real item of note here is a live performance of the album's lone hit, "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)."
The thing about these remastered versions of classic albums we're seeing so much of these days is they tend to favor bigger, more grandiose albums like Born To Run or, in George's case, All Things Must Pass. And like I said, compared to the grand sweep of that album (it's no coincidence Phil Spector was twisting some of the knobs on that one), Living In The Material World is a much smaller sounding record. So the remastered version doesn't really do a lot to enhance or otherwise uncover anything you didn't hear the first time around.
However, a second listen years later does reveal that maybe this record just didn't get a fair enough shake way back then in the first place. Some of George's best post-Beatles work can be found right here on this album.
You can start that list with "Give Me Love," which is just a damn fine little pop tune with one of those ever distinctive Harrison guitar signatures carrying the hook. "Give Me Love" wouldn't sound at all out of place on All Things Must Pass and it remains a classic rock staple today, even if not quite on the order of "My Sweet Lord" or "Here Comes The Sun."
Likewise, the title track, "Living In The Material World" is a perfectly serviceable rocker that still allows enough room for George to rail away at the evils of greed and materialism that were the hangover we all woke up to after the sixties.
The previously unavailable "Miss O'Dell" is one of those bluesy sounding little gems that Harrison every so often came up with over the course of his career. Think "Old Brown Shoe" and you pretty much get the idea.
The thing that stands out most the second time around, however, on Living In The Material World, is Harrison's ever so tasty guitar playing. In a rock and roll universe that revolved around the likes of Clapton and Hendrix at the time, Harrison was often overlooked in this regard.
On this album, George basically does what he has always done as a lead guitar player and that is tastefully punctuate the melody. Whether it's a bluesy slide or just a simple acoustic guitar, Harrison's playing throughout this album is the very definition of economic taste. One thing you can never accuse George Harrison of is overplaying his parts.
Being George Harrison, he is also backed up by some of the best. His band on this album includes Nicky Hopkins and a pre-Dream Weaver Gary Wright on keys, and the ever rocksteady Ringo sharing drum chores with Jim Keltner. Klaus Voorman, who seemed to be a favorite among ex-Beatles for their solo projects, completes the rhythm section on bass.
As for the lyrics? Well, if it were anybody but George Harrison, I'd be all over the hippy-drippy Hare Krishna sort of sentiments expressed throughout here. But hey, it's George Harrison. So he gets a pass.
If you were going to buy only one of George Harrison's solo albums, I'd still have to go with All Things Must Pass. But this is also a very decent, if somewhat lower key, record for George. And it comes very nicely packaged.