Saturday, February 2, 2013

Wonderwall Music - George Harrison

Wonderwall Music
George Harrison
Apple ST 3350

This is generally considered to be the first Beatles solo album, released just a few weeks prior to John and Yoko's "Two Virgins."  It is the soundtrack to a film called "Wonderwall" which I've never seen so I can't really say how effective it is as movie music, but as a pop record I find it disappointing.  The album consists almost entirely of instrumental music which means Harrison doesn't sing on it (thank God.)  Much of the music is Indian in nature, the rest is an assortment of Western style music.  My initial interest in the album stemmed from the tracks recorded in Bombay.  Unlike many Beatlemaniacs, I'm very fond of the three Indian style tracks Harrison recorded for the Beatles, "Love You To," "Within You Without You" and "The Inner Light," in fact I'd rather listen to them than his two big hits "My Sweet Lord" and "Give Me Love."  I expected the Indian tracks on here to be more of the same, a sort of a pop/Indian hybrid, but they definitely aren't pop.  I don't know enough about Indian music to judge this stuff, but it is much less dynamic than the music I've heard Ravi Shankar play.  I don't blame the musicians, the sarod player Aashish Khan is a world-renown virtuoso.  I'm sure the fault lies with the simple little riffs and ditties that Harrison has composed for them.  The Western music is not much better.  I realize that soundtrack music is generally intended to be unobtrusive (which is why I tend to avoid it on record) but Harrison's tunes are undistinguished even by those standards.  The album begins with the Indian musicians doing "Microbes" which is a slow droning number.  It is back to London for the keyboard driven "Red Lady Too" which sounds like chamber pop.  "Tabla and Pakavaj" is, as you might guess from its title, largely percussive in nature.  "In The Park" consists of a sitar and a sarod playing some slow and repetitive runs that never really go anywhere.  "Drilling a Home" is a goofy ragtime type number featuring a piano and horns.  It reminds me of the soundtrack to a "Benny Hill Show" skit.  "Guru Vandana" sounds like the same kind of silly tune played on Indian instruments.  "Greasy Legs" starts as a drone and then moves into some aimless keyboard noodling. "Ski-ing and Gat Kirwani" starts out as a rock jam constructed around a heavy riff with some guitar shredding that I assume is courtesy of Eric Clapton (credited as Eddie Clayton) before shifting halfway through the cut into a sprightly Indian segment with some fast paced sarod runs from Khan - easily the best cut on the album.  "Dream Scene" features some uncredited vocalists singing in Indian over a tranquil droning background which then shifts into a more frenetic instrumental section which then gives way to Western music with some jazzy horn stuff and finally a cacophony of horns and sound effects that is mildly psychedelic.  It is a truly weird tune, must be quite a dream sequence. "Party Seacombe" is a rock number reminiscent of the Beatles' "Flying" from "Magical Mystery Tour" only not as good, I find it monotonous.  I assume the title is an homage to the comedian Harry Secombe.  It is back to Bombay for "Love Scene" which is the track that sounds the most like the Indian style songs Harrison did with the Beatles.  There isn't much of a tune, and the runs that Harrison composed for the musicians aren't very interesting, but the music has some propulsion and would probably sound pretty nice in the background at an Indian restaurant.  "Crying" sounds like Indian instruments weeping, very irritating.  "Cowboy Museum" bares a suspicious resemblance to the "Soon Be Home" section of the Who's "A Quick One While He's Away" with a little "Happy Trails" thrown in.  "Fantasy Sequins" is dreary Indian droning.  "Glass Box" is a nice mix of Indian droning and Western style riffing and percussion.  I wish more of the record sounded like this.  "On The Bed" features the Indian musicians going to work on a simple theme with some fast paced playing that is over way too soon for my liking.  It figures that one of the best tunes on the album only lasts a minute.  "Wonderwall to Be Here" is sappy Western style piano music that could be the soundtrack to a television soap opera.  "Singing Om" is exactly that from some uncredited vocalists over a lugubrious organ drone.  The problem with a lot of soundtrack albums is that they were assembled to satisfy the needs of a movie with all its corresponding shifts in mood and texture.  It doesn't serve the flow of a well-programmed record album.  The problem is exacerbated on this record by alternating between Indian music and Western music.  It does not make for comfortable listening.  Even with more sympathetic programming, this is not going to be a good record, but it has its moments and the synthesis of Western and Indian style that Harrison occasionally achieves is genuinely stimulating.  I suppose he might even deserve some credit as the precursor to Bhangra style music.  Recommended to Beatles fans who sort of dig Indian music but have short attention spans.

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