For someone my age, I’m most likely one of the biggest Beatles fans around (my brother being the only other person I know that can run circles around my mop-top knowledge). I tend to favor John Lennon songs over any other Beatle, with George Harrison coming in closely behind because of his unique guitar playing and honest lyrics. While George’s Beatle catalogue is somewhat limited, most of his cuts are gems and have become some of my favorite songs by the Fab Four (i.e. “Something”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “I, Me, Mine”).
To preface this review, I’d like to point out that my experience with George’s solo work is very limited. All Things Must Pass remains one of my favorite albums of all-time by any artist. But other than that, I’m unfamiliar with the majority of his post-Beatle career.
Living in the Material World is wonderfully refreshing and full of slide guitar, stellar vocals and the influence of greatness. For a an album that came out 40 years ago (1973), the songs could easily be shuffled in with newer releases by My Morning Jacket or Wilco.
The album opener, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) “, is the only track that I was familiar with before this listen. In traditional post-Maharishi Harrison fashion, the lyrics discuss George’s relationship with the Lord and how it helps him cope with life. It can be classified as a “nice” track – something that warms your heart. Luckily for us, the album gets heavy very quickly.
“Sue Me, Sue You Blues” is a solid track carried by plenty of Harrison’s crafty slide guitar work. Tumbling cymbals guide the song alongside a Bill Joel-esque piano riff and lyrics suggestive of an agressive legal battle. The double-tracked vocals sound warm and powerful while never reaching the glossy pop feel of his previous vocal work with The Beatles – a feat that makes perfect sense on this song.
On most albums, track three tends to have a reputation of being the single or most radio-friendly track. “The Light That Has Lighted The World” is instantly likable and could have easily been played on 70s radio. But to my knowledge, it is only heard by those lucky enough to find it within the confines of this album. Like many of his songs, George’s vocal melody and carefully placed electric guitar accents add depth to a somewhat simple song. The piano dominates in terms of instrumentation but shimmering production on the acoustic guitar track cause it to outshine all of the other musical elements.
“Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” is a great, GREAT alt rock song. It finds Harrison singing portions of the verses in falsetto, before leading into “now don’t let me wait too long” with thunderous drumming. Indie rock owes a lot to this song in terms of how George has crafted something that doesn’t necessarily sound complicated into an intelligent composition full of behind-the-scenes complexity.
George always had this ability to shape slower songs into adventurous ballads. “Who Can See It” compliments the tracks occurring before and after but probably wouldn’t stand well played on it’s own. The vocals are the definite highlight of this song with a powerful performance that follows a beautiful melody.
“Living In The Material World” is a mediocre track that upon first listen, seems like it could have been cut from the album. While it stands out from other songs with a bridge that includes Ravi Shanker inspired instruments, an out of place sax solo gives it a bit of a pre-disco “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” vibe (possibly my least favorite Lennon song ever). It even ends like an episode of Saturday Night Live, complete with synchronicity between the sax, drums and piano as the credits roll across the turntable.
While Side I felt like a collection of individual songs, the second side feels cohesive with each song flowing into the next. One of my favorite tracks on the album has to be (surprisingly) “The Lord Loves the One”. Harrison’s guitar playing soars atop solid grooves to create a welcoming atmosphere. While I can’t personally relate to the lyrical content (that which could have been found in many Sunday sermons), there is no doubt that Harrison is passionate about the contents of this song.
“Be Here Now” is simplistically beautiful and includes everything you want to hear on an overcast November morning. I feel like after some time, it will become one of my most favorite George Harrison songs ever. The acoustic guitar is reminiscent of Nick Drake (only in tone, not necessarily in style) and compliments George’s double-tracked vocals perfectly. A gentle organ gives this song depth while a heavy standup bass causes this track to be heavier than it should.
George is no stranger to the dramatic waltz (“I,Me, Mine” and “Long, Long, Long”). “Try Some Buy Some” swings heavily from side-to-side with excellent orchestral accompaniment as Jim Gordon (of Derek and the Dominos) lays down the ideal drum track. Including some of the best vocals on the album, this song could have easily have fit alongside some of the more theatrical work from McCartney on Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour.
“The Day The World Get’s ‘Round” and “That Is All” both tip their hats to Lennon and contain elements of “Imagine” in terms of lyrics and piano structure. The first feels like it could be great but ends up lacking any sort of originality. While being my least favorite song on Side II, the intro and outro are refreshing and keep “The Day…” from becoming a skippable track.
The final track on the album, “That Is All”, starts with lyrics that carefully sum up Living in the Material World: “That is all I want to say”. Although another piano balled, the bridge propels this track into excellence as George sings “Times’ I find it hard to say, with useless words getting in my way.” A brief signature guitar solo adds familiarity to this cut – rounding out the album and leaving the listener feeling satisfied with another great album by another great Beatle.
Overall score: 8.5/10
Recommended if you like: The Beatles, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals