There were 15 eventful years between the release of Cloud Nine, released in 1987, and George Harrison’s final album, Brainwashed which was released on November 18, 2002. The long wait was also tinged with poignancy, as this, his 12th and final album, came out almost a year after George’s tragic passing.
It’s an album that is musically varied and full of gems that sometimes, unfairly, get overlooked. The first recording for the album took place as far back as 1988, when “Any Road,” written during the making of a video to promote Cloud Nine, was laid down. It was the only track from the album to be officially released as a single, in the spring of 2003; a minor hit in the UK, but not the US.
“Any Road” was nominated for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 2004 Grammy Awards, something that George would no doubt have found ironic. The single’s B-side, also included on the album, is the beautiful instrumental “Marwa Blues,” one of George’s finest moments on record. Like the A-side, this too was nominated for a Grammy, in the Best Pop Instrumental Performance category, and it justifiably won. The piece encapsulates everything that is brilliant about George’s guitar playing and innate sense of melody.
Like much of the album, “Marwa Blues” features George’s son, Dhani, on guitar and Jeff Lynne on keyboards and guitar (both credited as co-producers of the album). Brainwashed also features appearances from old friends, including drummer Jim Keltner and percussionist Ray Cooper, while Jon Lord plays piano on “Brainwashed.” But the overriding vibe of the record is one of an intimate, home-grown affair with Dhani and Jeff.
One reason for the slow progress on the record was George’s commitments with The Traveling Wilburys, whose second album came out in 1990, his production work on old friend Ravi Shankar’s Chants Of India album, and work on The Beatles’ Anthology series, which was broadcast in 1995.
George’s health was also an issue and, as he became more unwell, he shared his thoughts and wishes on how Brainwashed should be finished with Dhani. It is a remarkable testament that it sounds just like George was there throughout the entire process of its making.
Other standout tracks include “Rising Son,” the gentle “Stuck Inside A Cloud” and George’s version of “Run So Far,” a song which old friend Eric Clapton had recorded for his Journeyman album, released in 1989; the Brainwashed version is a completely new one that just features George, Dhani, and Jeff. “Stuck Inside A Cloud” was released to radio in 2002 to promote the album and became a minor hit on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart.
“Rocking Chair In Hawaii” was the oldest of Harrison’s originals on the album, having first been demoed in 1970 during the making of All Things Must Pass. Even older – and the oldest song on Brainwashed – is the standard “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea,” which was first published in 1932. George’s version, on which he sings and plays ukulele, was recorded in 1992 for a TV program, and among the musicians is Jools Holland on piano, Herbie Flowers on bass and tuba, and old friend Joe Brown on guitars – himself no mean ukulele player.
What is it that makes Brainwashed such a lovely album? Most of all it is the sense of intimacy captured in the recording, and the way it feels like an old-fashioned LP – one with a proper start, middle, and end. The end in this case, is the wonderful title track, in which George shows his continuing interest in political issues – think “Taxman” from Revolver, with modern subject matter.
Brainwashed is a reminder of just what a great songwriter and musician we lost when George died, on November 29, 2001. Put it on now, and while there is a tinge of sadness, it is a celebration of everything that made him so loved and revered.