George Harrison: Brainwashed (Capitol/EMI)

His life as a famous foursome influenced him to look for deeper truths “on his knees.”

George Harrison has spoken from the other side, almost exactly a year after his death from cancer. Brainwashed is a final thesis on what is important in life, and what he had learned in the vortex of fame and music.

Harrison was working on the album at the time of his death, and left explicit directions on how it should be finished with his son Dhani, who plays guitar and keyboards, and producer Jeff Lynne. Lynne, the ELO mastermind, had been a long-time collaborator, producing Harrison’s 1987 album Cloud Nine and the Beatles “reunion” singles “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.” This music is laid back and reflective, featuring Harrison’s slide guitar and plaintive singing.

The album starts off with Harrison saying, “Give me a little of that guitar.” He then launches into “Any Road.” The song talks about “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Harrison, the Eastern spiritual devotee, speaks of how people wander but God is right there with them: “…the way out is in.” This Eastern perspective is followed by “Part 2 Vatican Blues” on which the former Catholic speaks of loving the art inspired by the Church, but how the traditional prayers don’t seem to speak to him. He also alludes to his coming death by singing how he wishes that somebody would tell him that it’s a show and that he’ll confess in his “concrete tuxedo.”

As most Beatles fans know, Harrison was fairly quick to be disillusioned with his life as a famous foursome. It influenced him to look for deeper truths “on his knees,” as the song “Looking for My Life” relates. The instrumental “Marwa Blues” features Harrison seemingly playing from the heavens, his slide guitar serenading the listener to contemplation. Many of these theological themes can also be found on his post-Beatles breakup album, All Things Must Pass.

Harrison doesn’t really rock out on any of these tracks. Some of them hearken back to his successful Traveling Wilbury albums; one, “Run So Far,” had previously been covered by his friend, Eric Clapton. Always a fan of old pop songs, Harrison covers the Arlen/Koehler tune “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” with his ukulele; this might be a tongue-in-cheek jab at his serious ruminations on God.

The album ends with the upbeat Dylanesque rant of “Brainwashed.” Here, Harrison pours out his admonitions to people not to be brainwashed by teachers, parents, the Dow Jones, our political leaders, and the press. Chanting “God, God, God” all through the song, he tells the listener that most of what we consider important is illusionary. We even get a reading from The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, in which we are told, “The soul does not love. It is love itself. It does not exist. It is existence itself.” Chanting ends the song, which is appropriate, given that Harrison was doing the same thing before he fell unconscious and died.

Brainwashed asks us whether we are conscious of what’s really important while we’re living on this earth. If you like George Harrison and his philosophy, he has a parting gift for you this new year.

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