The lowercase "wall of sound" he refers to is, of course, the uppercase Wall of Sound that is the trademark of Phil Spector - who, though listed as co-producer with George, is primarily responsible for the album's often way over-the-top sonics. In retrospect, many of the big numbers - "Wah-Wah," "Isn't It a Pity," "What Is Life," "Awaiting On You All" - sound cluttered. Listen instead to the more subtle "also-rans," which also benefit from more subtle writing: the country-style "Behind That Locked Door," the heart-tugging "Run of the Mill," and especially the sweeping "Beware of Darkness," one of George's very best songs.
How would All Things have sounded without passing through Spector? You can get an idea from a stripped-down run-through of "Let It Down," included on the reissue as a bonus track (along with the unreleased "I Live for You"), and the demo of the title track on the Beatles' Anthology 3. Hear, too, the All Things material on The Concert for Bangla Desh (1971) - which, though again co-produced by Phil and George, sounds more boiled-down. Ironically, whereas Spector usually makes a studio seem like the Roman Colosseum, here he helps make Madison Square Garden sound like a nightclub.
All Things Must Pass remains George's most celebrated album. But the sun didn't set there, either. The studio follow-up, Living in the Material World (1973), has an attractively cozy sound. It also has stronger songs than it's usually given credit for. Besides the beautiful wave of melody and words in "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)," the album boasts the trenchant humor of "Sue Me, Sue You Blues" and the irresistible vocal hook of "Don't Let Me Wait Too Long."
By the time of All Things and Material World, George had adopted the delicate but evocative slide-guitar style that would not only mark his solo career but also prove influential on other guitarists. Yet he would often hide his slide under a bushel, deferring to other players. The first solo we hear on All Things, for "I'd Have You Anytime," is by Eric Clapton, who plays on much of the album. And Material World is hardly a guitar showcase, although the solos that are there - the sweet ones for "Give Me Love" and "That Is All," the sassy ones for "Sue Me" and the title track - are more than commendable.
Both the playing and the writing started to dry up on Dark Horse (1974), but the album can't be written off, if only for two standout tracks. "Simply Shady" is a solid song about one particular annus horribilus for George, and "So Sad" is an achingly sorrowful lament over his disintegrating marriage to his first wife, Pattie. It's much easier to write off 1975's Extra Texture (Read All About It), whose only real news is the obvious but respectable sequel "This Guitar (Can't Keep from Crying)."
Happily, George staged a comeback with Thirty-Three & 1/3 (1976). It's unfortunate that not many people noticed. Three songs - the funky "Woman Don't You Cry for Me," the sublime "Beautiful Girl," and the grand "See Yourself" - were begun by George in his late-Beatle days, and they get knockout updates here. Spiritual songs like "Dear One" and "Learning How to Love You" sound fresh. Then there's the humor. The "Lord" in "Crackerbox Palace" isn't the Lord but rather the 1960s comedian Lord Buckley. The hilarious "This Song" - George's response to being sued for "unconsciously" plagiarizing "He's So Fine" in "My Sweet Lord" - features a double cameo by Monty Python's Eric Idle: "Could be 'Sugar pie, honey bunch'!" "Nah, sounds more like 'Rescue Me'!" And George's guitar stages a comeback, too, tersely mischievous on "Woman," gorgeously longing on "Beautiful Girl," and nicely frisky on "This Song."
After that high point, George Harrison (1979) was a decided letdown, primarily because most of it was written in Hawaii under the influence of both tropical skies and "magic mushrooms." Notice how "Not Guilty," another Beatle-era composition, has mellowed since its tough appearance on Anthology 3. The strongest track here is "Blow Away," which is not a Hawaii song. Rather, it has George sitting in the rain outside his English home, awash in depression, until - here comes a Beatlesque pop melody!
So, does Somewhere in England (1981) signal a full return? No. In fact, George's record label initially rejected the album. George deleted four songs and resubmitted it with four new ones, including his pointed if didactic response to the rejection, "Blood from a Clone," as well as his heartfelt response to John's murder, "All Those Years Ago." George's next response was to shrug everything off and tell the world that he had once again Gone Troppo (1982), an album that was dismissed by the press as quickly as John's Some Time in New York City and Paul's Wild Life. Heard today, it actually gets off to a hopping start. The second half, though, is indeed a snooze, and George's guitar takes a distant back seat to fat synths.
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