- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 30, 2002

GEORGE HARRISON
Brainwashed
Capitol Records
Released Nov. 19, just 10 days shy of the first anniversary of his death yesterday, "Brainwashed" may be the musical equivalent of George Harrison's last will and testament.
Since it's also the ex-Beatle's first solo studio album since 1987's critically acclaimed "Cloud Nine," and it's hard to believe that he wrote only 11 songs in his final 14 years, one can only hope there are musical codicils lying in a vault somewhere awaiting discovery and release at a later date.
For now, we have "Brainwashed," a superb finale whose dozen tracks were completed after his death from cancer by longtime collaborator Jeff Lynne and Mr. Harrison's son, Dhani, 24, both of whom also play multiple instruments and provide backing vocals on the disc.
Although Mr. Harrison was facing his own mortality, there is, surprisingly, a lack of bitterness or self-pity on "Brainwashed." It opens with a cheery folk-rocker, "Any Road," replete with banjulele strumming and a Zen-philosophy chorus ("If you don't know where you're going/Any road will take you there") and includes a rollicking cover of Harold Arlen's 1930 standard, "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." The convergence of his ukulele, Jools Hollands' ragtime piano and Herbie Flowers' tuba on the latter suggest that Mr. Harrison never lost his sense of early Beatles playfulness throughout his long battle with cancer.
The disc's first single, the metaphorical "Stuck Inside a Cloud," with Mr. Harrison's signature lyrical slide guitar and reedy vocals, could be read as a goodbye ("Just talking to myself/Crying as we part/Knowing as you leave me/I also lose my heart") to his legion of fans. The dreamy love song, "Never Get Over You," evokes former band mate John Lennon's "Woman" from "Double Fantasy."
The philosophical "(Can Only) Run So Far," which he wrote for Eric Clapton's 1989 "Journeyman" album and revives here, would have been equally at home on a Traveling Wilburys album had Mr. Harrison and Mr. Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison recorded it. (The same could be said for "Any Road," which recalls the Wilburys' "End of the Line.")
"Pisces Fish," which also gets a Dylanesque reading, is a philosophical and (Hindu) spiritual rumination on life as murky as the Ganges, although it's quite vivid in its word pictures, evoking Canada geese and mad cows. It also shares a rather cryptic anti-Catholic sentiment with "P2 Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night)," although the latter is rescued by its infectious, uptempo instrumentation.
Mr. Harrison's spiritual quest also informs the midtempo "Looking for My Life" ("Had no idea that I was heading/Toward a state of emergency/I had no fear where I was treading/I only found it out when I was down upon my knees/Looking for my life") and the slide-guitar-drenched "Rising Sun" ("On the avenue of sinners I have been employed/Working there 'til I was near destroyed/I was almost a statistic inside a doctor's case/When I heard the messenger from inner space"). There's also "Marwa Blues," a contemplative, string-laden instrumental soundscape derived from an Indian raga.
The disc's closer is the title track, an acerbic tirade against the powerful institutions of society (the educational system, royalty and politicians, financial markets, the military, the media, consumerism, etc.) that are said to blind people to larger truths and keep them from thinking for themselves, self-realization and God. Reminiscent of "Devil's Radio," a similar rant against gossip and rumormongering on "Cloud Nine," "Brainwashed" is jarring, if only by virtue of the contrast in tone and temperament to the previous 11 tracks. (As though to compensate for its strident tone, the track is followed by a 2-minute-long appendage of Hindu chanting, through which one can easily fast-forward.)
All in all however, if there are no other recordings waiting to be discovered, "Brainwashed" is a fine capstone to a career. That career was honored last night on the first anniversary of Mr. Harrison's death at age 58 with a "Concert for George" at Royal Albert Hall in London featuring his fellow ex-Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as Mr. Clapton, Mr. Lynne, Mr. Petty, Mr. Holland and others. Proceeds were to benefit Mr. Harrison's Material World Charitable Foundation. The concert was filmed for television broadcast early next year.
Peter Parisi

RICHARD WAGNER
"The Opera Collection"
Conducted by Sir Georg Solti
Decca
When opera lovers hear Richard Wagner and Sir Georg Solti in the same breath, they're likely to think of the latter's 1960s recording of Wagner's complete "Ring" cycle, a feat still unparalleled for its thrilling singing, high-voltage orchestral playing and awe-inspiring sound effects.
But the Hungarian-born conductor also recorded the six other major Wagner operas, and now Decca has posthumously reissued them in "The Opera Collection," a boxed set, 22 CDs in all, some of them digitally remastered from the LP release.
It's an impressive collection by one of the major conductors of the second half of the last century. Perhaps no individual performance is definitive there's a lot of competition out there but this is one case where the whole is surely more than the sum of its parts.
The collection spans a remarkable 35 years of Mr. Solti's career and, in the process, gives a taste of three generations of Wagner singers.
"Tristan und Isolde" is the earliest, dating from 1960 and pairing the great soprano Birgit Nilsson in her prime with Austrian tenor Fritz Uhl, an honorable interpreter whose reputation has suffered by comparison with heldentenor Wolfgang Windgassen. (Miss Nilsson and Mr. Windgassen were later paired in a live 1966 recording from Bayreuth conducted by Karl Bohm.)
The 1972 "Parsifal" offers a chance to hear the great bass Gottlob Frick, who came out of retirement to sing the role of Gurnemanz. Although you can sometimes hear the wobble in his aging voice, his interpretation is richly steeped in tradition.
Most recent of the lot is "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg," dating from 1995, with two major stars of today, Ben Heppner and Karita Mattila. It was the only Wagner opera Mr. Solti recorded twice, and the more expansive tempos he adopted late in life suit the sunny comedy well.
Among the treasures preserved on these disks are the peerless mezzo Christa Ludwig (as Venus in the 1971 "Tannhauser" and Kundry in "Parsifal"); baritone Victor Braun as an exceptionally warm Wolfram in "Tannhauser"; bass Martti Talvela as Daland in the 1977 "Der Fliegende Hollander"; tenor Placido Domingo and soprano Jessye Norman, both in wonderful form in the 1985 "Lohengrin"; and baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Amfortas in "Parsifal" (although he's less comfortable as the "Lohengrin" Herald).
A bonus CD includes material from the rehearsals for the "Tristan" recording.
Associated Press

ROBIN WILLIAMS
Robin Williams "Live 2002"
Columbia Records
Robin Williams gave his acting career a desperately needed makeover this year by tackling three dark, against-type roles ("Death to Smoochy," "Insomnia," and "One Hour Photo"). He capped off the transformation by returning to his stand-up roots after a 16-year absence.
He should have stuck to the movie sets.
"Live 2002" captures material trotted out both to HBO watchers and audiences nationwide earlier this year. While the televised special earned some glowing reviews, here, without the visuals, the jokes mostly fall flat.
Don't blame the lack of Mr. Williams' manic moves. It's the material, stupid.
Mr. Williams possesses more comic tools than one stand-up should rightly have. His gift for mimicry, for adopting countless accents and cultures into his delivery, never ceases to amaze, but his packaging of all these wonderful gifts is slapdash, not inspired. His jokes never peer below the surface of our culture. For all the dead-on imitations, the punch lines are of the sort your aunt or uncle might attempt around the holiday dinner table.
The double album also is tiring to listen to straight through. Imagine watching a string of his "Tonight Show" appearances in a row, as a dazed Jay Leno chuckles while Mr. Williams burns about a thousand calories doing shtick.
Taking swipes at President George W. Bush's intellect or bemoaning how often teenage girls pierce their tongues isn't the mark of a stand-up at the peak of his powers.
The routines also rely heavily on current events, which don't suit a medium meant for posterity.
He skewers government, religion, airport security and morality with the equivalent of tiny wooden toothpicks when the topics deserve to be run through with jagged metal spikes.
More problematic is the second disc, which includes bits from 18 different city stops. Credit Mr. Williams for knowing his turf. But it's hard to imagine anyone enjoying these snippets who doesn't live in the cities in question.
"Live 2002" packages too much material with too few insights to make it worth our time, let alone suitable for repeated listens.
Christian Toto


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