- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

The "quiet Beatle" is still making noise. George Harrison's final solo album, "Brainwashed," hits music-store shelves today, near the first anniversary of his death.
Cobbled together per the late Beatle's strict guidelines by son Dhani and longtime collaborator Jeff Lynne, "Brainwashed" stands as a final statement from an artist who preferred his music speak for him.
It's hard to say whether "Brainwashed" would have received the current level of media scrutiny if Mr. Harrison hadn't died of cancer last Nov. 29 at age 58. Fellow ex-Beatle Ringo Starr's solo efforts of late have attracted little attention from either critics or the public, while every move Paul McCartney makes, it seems, draws headlines.
Yet Mr. Harrison was, and remains, different.
His first official post-Beatles effort, the three-record set "All Things Must Pass," proved an instant classic although its monster single, "My Sweet Lord," later was legally ruled too faithful a spin on the 1962 Chiffons hit "He's So Fine." (The Phil Spector-produced collection again won plaudits when it was refurbished sonically and rereleased with two additional tracks early last year.)
Mr. Harrison's subsequent solo releases, usually spotty but retaining some of that glory, began to be reissued on CD following his death.
"Brainwashed" marks his first full solo release since 1987's "Cloud Nine" and the subsequent "Live in Japan." The former album became a hit after striking a commercial nerve with "Got My Mind Set on You," a bouncy cover of an old gospel number that found generous airplay on radio and MTV.
Fans will read endlessly into the lyrics of "Brainwashed," especially because much of the album was written and recorded during Mr. Harrison's final years. Those days were far from tranquil for a man who preferred toiling in his English garden to discussing his heyday as a Beatle.
In 1999, an intruder entered his estate outside of London and nearly stabbed Mr. Harrison to death before his wife, Olivia, struck the man with a poker and a table lamp. At the time, the singer was receiving treatments for throat cancer, the first round in what would be a protracted fight with the disease.
Before his death Mr. Harrison had instructed the album's producers to include one song on "Brainwashed" from earlier in his career: "Run So Far" is his take on a song he gave to Eric Clapton for his fellow guitar legend's 1989 album, "Journeyman."
And the old standard "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" gets a jazzy retelling, buoyed by a velvety vocal.
"Brainwashed" marks the last chapter in his musical life, but its sound is very much rooted in his life-long influences, both spiritual and sonic.
The first single, "Stuck Inside a Cloud," bears his more familiar reedy voice enmeshed in irresistibly ethereal guitars.
"Never slept so little / Never smoked so much," Mr. Harrison sings, an eerie line given that his smoking habit may have led to his cancer.
Later, he tells us: "Wish I had the answer to give / Don't even have the cure," leaving the listener to imagine him sighing wistfully at the forces out of his, and our, control.
The jaunty "P2 Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night)," sounds anything but mournful, and the opener, "Any Road," would fit snugly in either collection by his later band, the Traveling Wilburys.
The album taps themes of sin, redemption and a continuing curiosity over life's quirks of fate. Rather than dwell on his diagnosis, songs like "Looking for My Life" drench the sadness in sugary acoustics.
He wears his faith on his sleeve for the title track, sung alternately in chants and an affected, nasal voice. Still, he lightens the lyrical hammer's blow by weaving humor into his enumeration of sources, such as governments, that leave us "brainwashed."
As a Beatle, Mr. Harrison contributed a small but sturdy set of classics to the group's canon, from "If I Needed Someone" to "Taxman" to "Here Comes the Sun." First among them, though, was "Something," a tune that Frank Sinatra publicly deemed the best love song ever written and the only Harrison composition included on the blockbuster "1" compilation of two years ago.
Mr. Harrison gave the Fab Four more than thoughtful, sometimes biting compositions and an increasingly distinctive guitar sound. He introduced his mates to Eastern philosophy and spiritualism, an influence heard in some of the band's later, more mystical recordings.
The singer-songwriter's gentle spirit fueled the Traveling Wilburys Mr. Harrison, Tom Petty, Mr. Lynne, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison (until his death in 1988) nearly two decades after the Beatles recorded together for the last time. The musicians channeled their talents into a pair of jubilant, low-key albums.
Should nostalgia and George Harrison's enduring talent prevail, "Brainwashed" could mark the last time his solo work graces the record charts.


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