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* * * * Great Balls of Fire * * * Good Vibrations * * Maybe Baby * Running on Empty : : Beatle Emeritus

November 01, 1987|STEVE HOCHMAN

* * * GEORGE HARRISON. "Cloud Nine." Dark Horse/Warner Bros. "Long time ago when we was fab / When income tax was all we had," sings the Quiet One on his first album in five years, once again proving that some of the best work from ex-Beatles comes when they don't fight the fact that they are ex-Beatles.

With its "I Am the Walrus"-like arrangement, the seriocomic "When We Was Fab" falls somewhere between the irreverence of the Rutles (Eric Idle's spoof of the Beatles, in which Harrison participated) and the wistfulness of Harrison's 1981 John Lennon eulogy "All Those Years Ago" to make the definitive statement about the status of Beatle emeritus.

That he has been able to let go--neither denying his past nor pandering to it--is clear on nearly every song on this album, helping to make it the most pleasing pure pop offering from a former Moptop since 1973's "Ringo."

Some of the credit goes to Harrison's co-producer, Jeff Lynne, who spent much of the '70s re-creating Beatlish styles as leader of ELO. With help from a cast that includes Eric Clapton, Elton John and Ringo himself, the pair resists the temptation to go hog-wild with the Beatlisms (except on "Fab," where they're appropriate), keeping the arrangements generally spare.

On the other hand, they have put the spotlight on Harrison's trademarks, many of which automatically recall that long time ago: melodies that shift from major to minor in mid-stride, his thin though expressive voice, and especially his immediately recognizable guitar styles.

None of the songs is exactly a timeless masterpiece. Apart from "Fab" and "Devil's Radio" ("Living in the Material World" redux), the selections are mostly good--but hardly spectacular--love songs, though there is some clever imagery and wordplay in the likes of "Fish on the Sand" and "Wreck of the Hesperus." But it's a good sign that the weakest cut (the single "Got My Mind Set on You") is the one song not written or co-written by Harrison. And even that's kinda catchy.

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