CD Review of Living in the Material World by George Harrison

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Living in the Material World
starstarstarstarno star Label: EMI
Released: 2006
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All the Beatles had their definitive solo albums during the ‘70s. For John, it was Imagine, for Paul, Band on the Run, and even Ringo had an unquestionable classic in the form of 1973’s Ringo. All of these albums, however, were the result of the former Fabs writing, recording, and clawing their way up to the top of their game. But what must it have been like for poor George Harrison to essentially start at the top of his game with his first proper solo album, All Things Must Pass, then – at least by most critical evaluations – follow it up by producing nothing but a series of lesser works?

Of course, in many cases, the critics were spot-on (have you listened to Gone Troppo lately?), but despite the fact that it’s been all but forgotten by just about everyone but the diehard Beatle fans, Living in the Material World is one of Harrison’s best solo albums.

So why has it been forgotten? Well, for one thing, most people tend to remember the debuts moreso than the sophomore releases…unless the sophomore release sucks, that is, in which case the artist is immediately crucified as a one-trick pony. Maybe it’s because Harrison, who was never one to concern himself with maintaining momentum, waited three years after All Things Must Pass to get around to releasing the follow-up. Not that he didn’t keep busy and in the public eye, thanks to his legendary Concert for Bangladesh (and subsequent concert album), but that was kind of coasting on his reputation as an ex-Beatle to do a good deed. When Living in the Material World finally came out, Harrison’s name alone guaranteed a debut at the top of the album charts, and listeners embraced the first and only single, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth),” to the tune of a #1 hit, but, for some reason, there were no further singles. Without hit singles, albums tend to get swept under a rug pretty quickly…and all it takes is a best-of collection for you to forget what album a song originally came from.

It’s not entirely confounding that there were no other singles. Certainly, “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” was highly chartworthy, and at two minutes and 58 seconds, it wouldn’t even have required an edit…but then, you look at some of the other songs and you realize that they’re not exactly Top 40 material. “Sue Me, Sue You Blues” would’ve probably been too controversial to release; who’d’ve thought the quiet Beatle would be the first to publicly mouth off about the legal battles he was having with his former bandmates? “The Light That Has Lighted the World” bears a melodic similarity to John Lennon’s “Mind Games,” but the title was a mouthful…though not as much of one as “The Lord Loves the One (That Loves the Lord).” (Yes, obviously, Harrison was then – as he would remain until his death – quite caught up in his spirituality.)

Much of the album has a languid feel, but certainly not all of it. The horn-powered choruses of the title track are pretty funky. “Deep Blue” probably intentionally echoes the 1932 standard, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” which Harrison would go on to cover on the posthumously-released Brainwashed. “Try Some Buy Some” is probably the most traditionally “Beatle-esque” song on the album, and Harrison was so fond of it that he lent it to Ronnie Spector to record.

There’s a bonus DVD included with this reissue, and while you can’t say it’s something you’d pop in often, it does contain a live performance of “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” from Harrison’s 1991 tour of Japan, as well as an alternate version of “Miss O’Dell,” the acoustic demo for “Sue Me, Sue You Blues,” and what appears to be the original promotion film for the album’s title track. While there’s the inevitable annoyance that the demo and alternate take only appear on the DVD, at least they’ve essentially created music videos for both tracks, making it a little easier to swallow that you can only experience the songs via this disc.

Living in the Material World: once it was kind of lost, but here’s the perfect opportunity for you to find out what you’ve been missing.

~Will Harris