Recorded in the months leading up to his death in late 2001, Brainwashed was always going to be George Harrison’s posthumous album. Knowing he wasn’t going to be around to apply the finishing touches, Harrison left copious notes on how he wanted everything to sound. That task was left to Harrison’s son Dhani and Traveling Wilburys collaborator Jeff Lynne. (Even that surprised some observers, given that Harrison was quoted in 2001 as saying that Lynne wouldn’t be involved in his next album because he didn’t want it to “sound like an ELO album,” though this may be yet another example of the dry wit that distinguished Harrison back in his Beatles days.)
In the end, though, Lynne did finish Harrison’s swan song, and it looks like Harrison planned it that way all along. Brainwashed is as fitting and haunting an exit for George Harrison as Mystery Girl was for Roy Orbison.
Given that Harrison knew the end was near, the slate of songs on Brainwashed is surprisingly cheerful and philosophical at the same time …and it’s no more downbeat than anything that came before. Given that the ex-Beatle had recently suffered through a prolonged series of cancer treatments, as well as recovering from being stabbed by an unstable fan, I doubt anyone would’ve blamed him for being a bit darker and more bitter…but in the end, that just wasn’t George Harrison. And maybe that, along with his music, is his legacy and lesson for everyone. And while he didn’t spend his last opportunity venting, he does wax a little more spiritual than usual – the outstanding “Rising Sun” (with its “I Am The Walrus”-esque cello backing arrangement) is a good example of this, as is the lead single, “Stuck Inside A Cloud”. He also pokes some gentle fun at the Catholic Church in the Wilbury-esque “P2 Vatican Blues” (which also shows more than just a little hint of Bob Dylan’s influence), and laments what he sees as the duping of society in the title track. Chances are, George Harrison mentions God more often in the course of Brainwashed than any other non-Christian mainstream album has in the past year.
I also have to say, for the record, that “Never Get Over You” is one of the best songs I’ve heard anyone do in the past few years; it has some incredible harmonies and the kind of non-date-specific sound that gives it a feel not unlike Harrison’s best music from the 70s. It’s that good. I tend not to put one song on continuous repeat unless it really trips my trigger, and I think I listened to nothing but “Never Get Over You” for two or three hours straight the first time I heard it. “Rising Sun” and the wistful “Marwa Blues” instrumental inspire that kind of compulsory repeat listening too. I’m not trying to be funny when I say I can’t get them out of my head.
Overall, it’s amazing stuff – it doesn’t sound like the last album of someone’s career, let alone the last album they’re going to make while they’re alive. And as for the naysayers who are complaining that George Harrison’s final set sounded like “an ELO record,” relax…it really doesn’t. And almost as sad as the fact that George is no longer with us is the fact that he didn’t grace the world with more of his unique sound in the decade before his death. Brainwashed is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, and not just for the nostalgia factor.
- Any Road Will Take You There (3:54)
- P2 Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night) (2:41)
- Pisces Fish (4:54)
- Looking For My Life (3:51)
- Rising Sun (5:28)
- Marwa Blues (3:43)
- Stuck Inside A Cloud (4:07)
- Run So Far (4:08)
- Never Get Over You (3:28)
- Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea (2:36)
- Rocking Chair In Hawaii (3:08)
- Brainwashed (6:07)
Released by: Capitol
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 48:11