Classic Rock Review

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George Harrison All Things Must Pass (1970)


Review With this triumph, George Harrison proved without a shadow of a doubt that he had shed the Beatles years long before the 1970 breakup. His spiritual journey had begun years earlier, yet his uncomfortable status as a Beatle prevented him from releasing these intensely personal songs on a Beatles record. Harrison makes a statement with both lyric and melody with “All Things Must Pass.” This collection of songs, most of which were written years earlier and kept in Harrison’s hope chest, provide proof of his desire to go beyond what any artist had, or has, in discovery of the meaning of life. Here, George profoundly shed his image as simply a Beatles in grand fashion.

This album works because we are not hammered with a collection of spiritual songs from his unusual, yet thought provoking personal religious beliefs. There are those strange moments such as with the song “My Sweet Lord” and its references to, in Harrison’s own words, a God with many branches known as religions. This mixture of Christianity and Hinduism are odd to say the least, however songs such as “If Not For You” and “What is Life” could just as easily have been crafted for a serious earthly love affair or a spiritual relationship with God. In a way Harrison leaves us confused as to his message but we yearn for more.

This mystery leads Harrison to ask the listener to contemplate life; to think about life’s joys and sorrows, love and disappointment. The slick Wall-of-Sound production quality, provided by Phil Spector, profoundly adds to the spirituality of this gem. Without it, the album would sound like that of an acoustic troubadour rather than a grand creator coming down to greet his creation. Harrison had come a long way since his first released song, “Don’t Bother Me.”

The extra tracks on this provide evidence of Spector’s wall of sound. With the exception of “My Sweet Lord 2000” and an instrumental version of “Wah Wah”, they are a glimpse into the raw acoustic versions of a Spectorless All Things Must Pass. In “My Sweet Lord 2000” Harrison reminds us that he is still spiritual and still growing in his beliefs. No longer is the song simply an odd Christian-Hindu mix. Other religions such as Buddhism appear on “God’s Tree”. The production of the song takes us back to Harrison’s “Cloud 9”. It creates a bookend in a way for Harrison’s solo career. It began with “My Sweet Lord 1971” and unfortunately ended with “My Sweet Lord 2000”. Although his guitar style had changed his belief structure had changed relatively little.

Originally this was a three LP set. In CD form the Apple Jam session seems somewhat out of place. It may have been simple filler in those vinyl days as Harrison had exhausted his treasure chest of stored compositions.

Harrison dips his toe in the spiritual waters in this collection giving his audience reason to search for more. It is one of three Harrison offerings providing a look into his personal beliefs. Unfortunately the next two would shatter the myth that Harrison’s spirituality could meld with his music in harmony.

This album stands alone without resting on the foundation built by the Beatles. It is truly a timeless classic and an autobiography of an incredible life ended too soon.

Review Harrison had already proved his song writing worth as a Beatle during their final few years, a growth that culminated in his two dazzling contributions to “Abbey Road”. Even so, it came as something of a surprise when his first proper solo work, the triple-album set “All Things Must Pass”, managed to both artistically and commercially outshine the initial solo efforts of Lennon and (especially) McCartney, who had belittled his efforts while still in the group.

Drawing from an enormous back catalog of rejected Beatle tracks (a list so huge that outside of the 16 which made it onto the album, a further 10 or so–including such gems as “Beautiful Girl”, “Mother Divine” and “I Live For You”–remained in the vaults), the dark horse and his willing co-producer Phil Spector fashioned an album of monumental reach, epic scope and lilting emotional beauty which, thirty years later, remains not only Harrison’s crowning achievement but arguably still the best album from an ex-Fab.

Tracks like “Beware Of Darkness”, “Run Of The Mill” and “Isn’t It A Pity” are fashioned out of spiritual lyrics, silky vocals and cosmic orchestral arrangments which combine to create music that relieved many a heroin addict from his or her affliction, so powerful was their effect. The album seemed effortless and instantly memorable, the third disc of somewhat plodding jam sessions being recognized for what it was (a free bonus not to be considered part of the actual album itself).

As Harrison states in the remaster’s new liner notes, he now wishes to re-do the songs sans the famous “wall of sound”; he gives us a sample of what he means with a rerecorded “My Sweet Lord”, which substitutes the strings for more gospel-ish backing vocals and intricate slide guitar work. The acoustic guitars still glisten, and while not an improvement over the original, it is worthwhile nonetheless. Thankfully, the glorious wall of sound is still there on all the old tracks, remastered to sound like the original vinyl for the first time (and perhaps even a bit better); fans have always complained that the mix of the album seemed a bit muddy, and this is as clear as its going to get.

I always thought the reverb to be essential to the sound of the album, and here it sounds better than ever. The rest of the bonus tracks are fine, although they could have put on more: “I Live For You” features a lilting pedal steel guitar part, while the acoustic demo for “Let It Down” is given an extra guitar overdub for maximum soothing effect. The “Apple Jam” sessions have been resequenced, and they do sound better in this context (the synth effects in “I Remember Jeep” come out best here).

As for the original brown cover being replaced by the concrete and nuclear reactors in the booklet–some say it’s Harrison being cynical, but cynicism is always the last refuge of the idealist, no?) Harrison’s cynicism here is best expressed as a little joke, as he says, although they still should’ve reprinted the original brown cover as well!

May 4, 2013 - Posted by | George Harrison All Things Must Pass | ,

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