Tuesday, 17 July 2018
George Harrison - All Things Must Pass (1971)
Released November 1970
Recorded at Abbey Road, Trident and Apple Studios, London
George Harrison’s bloated triple album, from late 1970, certainly out-did “McCartney” or “The Plastic Ono Band”. It was a huge achievement in many ways, as Harrison managed to blend his increasing spiritual devotion and motivation with some good, accessible rock music. Personally, though, I have always found the album to be a half-good, half-bad frustrating one. I have problems with the sound and production, which I will refer to as the review progresses.
The opener is a laid-back, somewhat sleepy and solemn collaboration between Harrison and Bob Dylan in “I’d Have You Anytime”. It has beautiful parts, though, and a beguiling vocal from Harrison. Then came “My Sweet Lord”, known all around the world now. Its iconic acoustic and slide guitar intro is just so nostalgic. It is the dark afternoons of late 1970 again. Lyrically, of course it tapped in to the zeitgeist of religious experimentation and searches for spiritual peace that pervaded the beginning of the seventies. I loved it then and still do, however. So evocative.
“Wah-Wah” has some excellent guitar, but the mushy drum sound and generally crashing backing spoils it. There is a horn riff in there somewhere, but even on this supposedly remastered version it is difficult to hear properly, which is such a shame. The production has, in my opinion, always been awful on this track. Harrison was searching for a Spector-esque "Wall Of Sound”, indeed, using Spector himself to help him out on the production, but in many respects it just ended up as a muffled, trebly wall of frustration. For me, anyway. It is nigh on unlistenable. In many respects it is the worst track on the album.
The next track, though, the impressive and lengthy “Isn’t It A Pity” (rejected as a Beatles track, incidentally), restores the quality. It has a rich, warm bassy sound, particularly when the drums kick in. Harrison’s vocal is haunting and plaintive and overall, the track is very atmospheric. Lovely strings merge with Harrison’s guitar half way through. It should have ended at around five minutes though. “What Is Life” is excellent. Vibrant and lively, with airs of mid-sixties Beatles and a catchy hook. It suffers a little from the “Wah’-Wah” production gremlins, however, (the horns are buried under the wall of sound) but I still enjoy it a lot more than “Wah-Wah”. It would have made a good single. Great guitar riff on it, particularly in the intro.
Dylan’s “If Not For You” is delivered in a beautiful, steel guitar country rock style. Harrison’s voice suits it down to the ground. He even seems to be trying to imitate Dylan at some points. The country rock groove continues with the melodious, once again steel guitar dominated “Behind That Locked Door”. There is some good sound quality on this one. No wall of sound = great sound - On this album at least (and I am a sixties Spector fan). “Let It Down” again starts with some cacophonous noise, but settles down into a reasonable track. Harrison sounds almost like Lennon in places and the drums are very Starr-like. It is a track that I enjoy for half of it, the other half irritates me, I’m afraid. It ends raucously. So much of this album is, for me, unrealised potential.
The next track, “Run Of The Mill” sees a great improvement, however. It sounds clear, Beatles-ish and is much more of a pleasure to listen to. Excellent clear drum and guitar sounds on it with a warm, vibrant bass too and a stronger vocal from Harrison. “Beware Of Darkness” starts the old “side three” and is a nice one. Great sound on it, a mysterious vocal and a generally beguiling ambience. Harrison’s strange accent “take curr, bewurr” is odd, though, listening to it now. Scousers don’t talk like that anymore. It is more "take caiiir” now. “Apple Scruffs” is a light but appealing throwaway, with some Lindisfarne-style harmonica. Enjoyable but dispensable. “Ballad Of Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” is interesting. Chugging and powerful in its pounding drum and funky piano sound. Harrison’s vocalists somewhat distant, however. The track never quite gets there, in my opinion. “Awaiting You All” sees a return to an unclear muffled sound. Somewhere beneath that murk lies a fetching, lively song. Spoilt again, unfortunately.
The title track (another one rejected for The Beatles) is an improvement. A little bit murky in the production, with Harrison’s voice too far down in the mix. Maybe it just revealed weaknesses in his voice, thinking about it. The “big’ sound tended to drown him out. The Lennonesque “I Dig Love” is one of my favourites, however. I like the catchy and potent drum and piano “riff” bit that underpins it. “Art Of Dying” suffers from the sound thing again, but it sort of works on this one. Not quite sure why. At the same time, I still can’t hear those horns properly. Nice bit of guitar work half way through though. The second version of “Isn’t It A Pity” is actually my preferred version, shorter and more nuanced. “Hear Me Lord” is another good track in a late sixties Beatles slowed-down bluesy rock stye. There are hints of Pink Floyd on here, for me. Maybe they listened to this while writing “Dark Side Of The Moon”. It certainly sounds like it in places.
The plaintive bonus track “I Live For You” is similarly appealing and, again, very, very Beatles in its sound and ambience. Harrison’s slide guitar comes into its own on here. A pity it wasn’t on the original album.
Of course, there are also the “Apple Jams” which took up the old sides five and six. Did anyone play them much at the time, I wonder? Or indeed, do they now? Actually, “Out Of The Blue” is quite enjoyable, as are most of them. Certainly the sound quality is much more tolerable on “Out Of The Blue” - a really clear guitar sound. The piano/guitar bit at six minutes sounds very Rolling Stones on 1974’s “Fingerprint File” - the link being Billy Preston. Eight minutes in and I’m still enjoying it. “Plug Me In” is a rocker, and most enjoyable. Big, punchy and bassy.
So, in conclusion (my review has been as sprawling as the album itself!) this is an album which contains around four tracks that were, in my view, produced to death and suffer for it. The wonders of digital technology means I can select the others at times. When I do so, I have a more enjoyable album. The sad thing is, due to these production gripes and its bloated size I find I listen to “McCartney” more than I listen to this, which is a shame. Isn’t it a pity.