Album Reviews

George Harrison: Wonderwall Music/Electronic Sound (Apple Records)

Wonderwall_Music_(George_Harrison_album_-_cover_art)

George Harrison’s legacy as a solo artist cannot be denied. Though he kept his career very low-key—only two tours, one in the US, and one in Japan—his solo releases were a varied fare; some good, some forgettable, and some downright interesting. Harrison was the first Beatle to officially release a solo album, and that solo album was also the first release on the band’s new Apple Records label.
Wonderwall Music, released in 1968, served as the soundtrack to the film Wonderwall—a funny, if not slightly dated—psychedelic comedy documenting the culture clash between the hippie culture and an older, middle-aged businessman. Recorded both in London and in India, the album highlights Harrison’s love of Indian music. Indeed, in the notes to the reissue, it stated that Harrison considered the album a sampler of Eastern sounds. The Indian numbers are brief; anyone expecting Shankar-style ragas will be sorely disappointed. Considering the nature of the  music here, it’s something of a shame that songs like “Guru Vandana” and “Gat Kirwani” are so damn short. It’s the nature of incidental music, of course, to be brief and fit scenes, but these Eastern influenced pieces aren’t so much a “sample” as they are a crumb of a greater meal.

Not all of the music is sitar music; “Drilling a Home” is a fun ragtime number, “Ski-ing” is a heavy, albeit brief acid-rock jam—I don’t think I’m wrong in saying it sounds like Black Sabbath— while “Dream Scene” is simply one of Harrison’s finest psychedelic creations—blending Eastern and Western sounds in a heady, dreamlike manner that makes its designation on such an obscure album a bit of a pity.  Like the Indian pieces, these numbers are brief–often too brief–and when allowed to play out, are fine instrumental fare–even if they are somewhat forgettable in the larger scheme of Harrison’s output.

It’s the album’s bonus tracks that will serve as an interest. The first song, “In The First Place,” is by Remo Four, the band featured in the film. It’s mellowed-out psych-pop, and a fine little number. “Almost Shankara” is the type of extended number that one would have liked to have heard on the album. The final number is an unreleased (and surprisingly never bootlegged) early, instrumental rehearsal take of “The Inner Light,” which would be the B-side to “Lady Madonna.” It’s interesting to hear it come together and being worked on. These are three excellent archival additions that make this a fine reissue of an overlooked classic.

Electronic_Sound_(George_Harrison_album_-_cover_art)

Harrison’s second solo album, Electronic Sound, is much more problematic. Like his previous record, it too was the debut release for Zapple, the label’s proposed experimental music subsidiary. Consisting of two album long tracks, “No Time or Space” and “Under The Mersey Wall,” these two pieces were merely extensive experiments on the then-new Moog synthesizer. The dismissals that Harrison simply recorded his practice, slapped a title on it, and called it an album are not without merit, as these exercises were indeed Harrison’s first excursions into the instrument, and sound as such.

Electronic Sound There’s a more unfortunate detail about worth noting. When Harrison acquired his Moog, he enlisted the assistance of synthesizer composer Bernie Krause to teach him about the instrument. Krause insists that what Electronic Sound consists of is not Harrison, but of his own demonstration recordings, recorded without his approval. Krause filed legal action against him, but Harrison never denied that he was assisted; indeed, the original cover art read “assisted by Bernie Krause,” but Krause demanded it be removed.

These two albums marked the first and last time Harrison would be this experimental with his music. Perhaps because of their poor reception, or perhaps his own songwriting quality was on the uptick, he abandoned this playful side, his next offering proving to be a grand-slam proper solo debut.

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