by Jeff Fiedler
Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.
Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975, Apple)
Harrison's final album for Apple, Extra Texture sets the stage for Harrison's more soft-rock-oriented work for his own Dark Horse label in the late '70s and early '80s and, as such, tends to get unfairly criticized for its softer, at times R&B/soul-leaning texture. But this is not a critic's album; in fact, Extra Texture is the most unapologetically commercial album Harrison has issued up to this point. His voice has thankfully returned to full form after the laryngitis-plagued Dark Horse, and, better yet, Harrison here has all but ceased with his on-record preaching that had truly started alienating his fans, particularly ever since the overly religious Living in the Material World. Here, Harrison has retreated to the more listenable elements of All Things Must Pass, both wrapping his lyrics in a more secular package and even doing his best Phil Spector impression on the excellent single "You," Harrison's best single since "What Is Life." One also wonders why there weren't additional hits from this album; "This Guitar (Can't Keep from Crying)" is prime stuff and really should have climbed up the charts, and "Tired of Midnight Blue" and "Can't Stop Thinking About You" are also quite good. Harrison seems much more lighthearted here, too, than he has in quite some time, which also goes a long way towards making the album listenable. There's still some filler, of course - some of it, like "His Name Is Legs," very self-indulgent stuff, too - but this is a far more enjoyable solo album than anything he'd issued since All Things Must Pass.
Thirty-Three and a Third (1976, Dark Horse)
Harrison's first work for his own Dark Horse imprint, Thirty-Three is certainly more of an adult-contemporary-pop album than it is a rock record - as would also be the case with all his solo material until Cloud Nine - but it's also very well-crafted stuff and Harrison is in an even more lighthearted and playful mood on this album than he was on Extra Texture, his spirits seemingly in much better shape than they were circa Dark Horse. There's some odd material here - the album's most inexplicable moment is a cover of the Bing Crosby/Grace Kelly song "True Love" - but there are also quite a few winners, especially the two singles, "This Song" and "Crackerbox Palace," the latter arguably Harrison's best solo single up to that point, and the should-have-been-single "Beautiful Girl."
George Harrison (1979, Dark Horse)
Second only to All Things Must Pass as Harrison's best work during the '70s, this album tends to get a fair bit of criticism for its heavily soft-rock-oriented sound - and this certainly is very much a soft-rock record - but, all the same, this is a very expertly-crafted pop album and one of Harrison's better set of songs. "Your Love Is Forever," "Here Comes the Moon," "Faster," and "Not Guilty" (a remake of a Beatles song that stayed in the vaults until Anthology 3) are all enjoyable; "Blow Away" is the most deliriously catchy, if not also the most wildly underrated, of any of Harrison's singles during the Seventies; and the album also contains one of Harrison's greatest lost gems in the non-charting single "Love Comes to Everyone," which not only boasts a fantastic and catchy melody and lyric, but instrumental solos from both Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood.
Somewhere in England (1981, Dark Horse)
This album has the dubious distinction of having been rejected by Warner Brothers upon first submission and subsequently re-worked, but even the final product is still a head-scratcher. The biggest mystery is why in the world there are not just one, but two Hoagy Carmichael songs here. Was Harrison really that short on original material? The posthumous Lennon tribute "All Those Years Ago" and "Teardrops" both are quite addictive and are worth owning, but there's really not much else beyond those two tracks that's likely to stick in your head afterwards, this easily being George's least hook-laden album to date.
Gone Troppo (1982, Dark Horse)
An even more bizarre album than Somewhere in England. The album's low point is the campy cover of the '50s oldie "I Really Love You" by the Stereos, which inexplicably was also released as a single (but sold miserably, the 45 being extremely difficult to find today), in spite of not only being quite embarrassing but being almost impossible to identify as being a George Harrison recording, George's voice just one in a chorus of singers who jointly sing lead on it. The album's opener (and sole charting track), "Wake Up My Love," is excellent and unjustly missed the Top 40, but the bulk of the album can easily be bypassed. If you own Harrison's Best of Dark Horse hits package, you already own all of the decent songs on this album.
Cloud Nine (1987, Dark Horse)
You can make a very strong case for this being Harrison's best solo disc. While an '80s release, and often overlooked for that reason, the production is no more dated than, say, Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever, and has held up well over the years. More importantly, though, Harrison hasn't sounded this refreshed and energized in well over a decade, the album bursting with the kind of jubilance and sheer fun that most of his previous solo output has lacked, and the songs are his best and most consistent set in quite some time. "Got My Mind Set on You" was the big hit (a Number One, at that, George’s first since “My Sweet Lord”) and still sounds great today, but there are plenty of equally great moments to be found here, among them "Devil's Radio," "This Is Love," "When We Was Fab," and "That's What It Takes." A very impressive comeback effort.
Brainwashed (2002, Dark Horse)
Released posthumously, Brainwashed is neither great nor terrible but a pleasant-but-forgettable listen. None of the songs here are embarrassing, which can't be said about most of Harrison's solo albums, which usually have at least one truly cringe-worthy track, but they also aren't especially hooky and you're not likely to remember most of the songs afterwards, though the album's opener, "Any Road," is an exception and one of the most underrated gems in Harrison's solo catalog, deserving of a spot on any career best-of.
Sadly, there is no sufficient hits package of George’s solo material. The embarrassing 1976 package, Capitol’s The Best of George Harrison, includes an entire side’s worth of Beatles cuts written and sung by George. (They’re great songs, naturally, but come on, even Ringo’s hits package from the same time period contained all solo-era material!) The 1989 package Best of Dark Horse 1976-1989 only includes material from George’s post-Apple outings, making it an incomplete picture of George’s full solo career, but it does an excellent job of selecting all the best and most critical tracks from the time span mentioned in its title. The 2009 Capitol/Apple package Let It Roll is nearly as poorly-executed as the 1976 compilation, inexplicably still including three Beatles songs (albeit in the form of live versions from The Concert for Bangladesh) while failing to include six of his fifteen Top 40 hits as a solo artist (including the delightful “Crackerbox Palace,” “This Song,” “You,” and “Bangla Desh.”)
Harrison’s only other live album besides the various-artists package The Concert for Bangladesh was the 1989 double-disc Live in Japan. It’s fairly good, though George downplays his solo material quite a bit, devoting a full nine of the nineteen cuts to Beatles-era songs, even album cuts like “Piggies” and “I Want to Tell You”; it’s hard not to wish George had included more of his solo cuts, especially hits like “Blow Away,” “Crackerbox Palace,” or “You.” The album’s biggest highlight is the knockout rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which, like the studio version from The White Album, features a blistering solo from Eric Clapton.