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Gone Troppo - George Harrison

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Audio CD: 1 Mar 2004 / Label: Dark Horse/Parlophone/EMI

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      09.06.2013 19:31
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      George Harrison's strangely under-promoted 1982 solo album

      GEORGE HARRISON

      Despite a brief burst of renewed success on the back of his John Lennon tribute single 'All Those Years Ago' and the parent album 'Somewhere In England' in 1981, within a year of their appearance George Harrison was spending more time on other interests, notably his Handmade Films Company, than music. Sadly for him, and perhaps for us as well, it meant that his next album, 'Gone Troppo' in November 1982, was not exactly released so much as merely escaped. It died through total lack of promotion, and was soon deleted. In Britain it never troubled the charts (how many people even knew it was out?), while in America, where his previous lowest album chart peak had been No. 14, it only managed a humble No. 108, and was ultimately his worst seller there as well as in Britain.

      If there is a Harrison album you have never heard of (and let's forget the avant-garde late 1960s electronic doodling stuff like 'Wonderwall', which doesn't really count), this is almost certainly it. Strangely, not one track was selected to appear on the 2009 compilation 'Let It Roll'. Thankfully its reissue on CD in 2004, alongside the rest of his Dark Horse label catalogue, has given us a second chance to hear a record which deserved much, much better than it ever did.

      THE MUSICIANS

      Apart from the main man on guitars, bass, marimba, Jal-Tarang (an Indian percussion instrument consisting of ceramic or metal bowls filled with water, struck with beaters), synths and mandolin, the musicians include Mike Moran, Gary Brooker, Billy Preston, Jon Lord (organ, piano or synths), Herbie Flowers (bass), Ray Cooper, Jim Keltner (percussion), Joe Brown (mandolin), and Henry Spinetti, Dave Mattacks (drums). Preston, Syreeta Wright and Vicki Brown (Joe's wife) are among the backing vocalists.

      THE MUSIC

      First up is the track rightly released as a single, 'Wake Up My Love'. This is probably the most untypical, least George-like song on offer here. Anybody who thinks he was stuck inside a time warp has never heard of this. In 1982 the charts were full of synth-pop, and this not only takes on the likes of Ultravox, Depeche Mode et al at their own game but in my view beats most of 'em hollow. It's based around a naggingly commercial keyboard riff which sounds like a second cousin of Laura Branigan's 'Gloria' - pure pop never got better than that in the 1980s - and Van Halen's 'Jump'. Synths swizzle and swirl, while George's vocal sounds unusually animated and far less laid-back than usual, and his bass work on this track is quite chunky - reminiscent of the Stranglers at their early best.

      One minor disappointment is that just as his lead guitar starts to take flight towards the end, it fades out rather suddenly. Shame - but 'isn't it a pity' or an even greater shame, the fact that it never made the Radio 1 playlist (I think I heard it played just once at the time). Like The Bee Gees' 'Jive Talkin'' in 1975, it was a remarkable, almost out-of-character transformation that had 'HIT' written all over it - but a record could only be a hit if enough people heard it and went out to buy. Just a little exposure could have made all the difference. It did make No. 53 in America. But to think that that same year the cloying 'Ebony And Ivory' by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder made it to No. 1 while this sank without trace - well, it's a strange world.

      Closer to his normal style is the lovely 'That's The Way It Goes'. I'm a sucker for his slide guitar work, and this laid-back song with its lyrics of weary resignation not only has a mighty fine tune but the slide guitar which makes up the intro and pops up between verses is little short of magnificent.

      The only non-original on the album, 'I Really Love You', is an old doo-wop song first recorded in 1961 by Ohio group The Stereos (no, I'd never heard of them before either). I'm in two minds about this. On one hand I think it's totally out of character, sounding more like something from Darts or Rocky Sharpe and the Replays. On the other hand, it is well done, and all credit to the man for doing something totally different. It later came out as a single in America but again sank without trace.

      'Greece' is an instrumental, unless you count a few almost inaudible vocals about halfway through, mostly ambient keyboards and wonderful slide guitar again, with enough bass and drums to underpin it without taking over. There's something rather summery about this one.

      The album's title track, in case you were wondering, takes its title from Australian slang for 'gone mad or crazy'. An infectious tune which manages to be tender and bouncy at the same time, this boasts some wonderful acoustic and electric guitar work as well as an array of tropical percussion instruments. Again, the mood is overwhelmingly summery. A thought is beginning to emerge; this album should really have been released in May or June, not November. Another thought is that if you're only half-listening, it sounds like he could be singing 'Got trouble'.

      'Mystical One' is another of Harrison's more spiritual songs, yet the lyrical mood is one of serenity rather than preachiness. And I can't resist that combination of slide guitar and two mandolins.

      'Unknown Delight' is a love song, a ballad. This didn't grab me on first hearing as much as the others, but it sounds better on repeated listenings.

      In similar mood, but far stronger, is 'Baby Don't Run Away'. Now this really does have a tune to die for, and that combination of synths plus backing vocals is wonderful. It's probably one of the best ballads he ever recorded, certainly in the latter part of his career.

      Then it gets even better with 'Dream Away', a song from the 'Time Bandits' soundtrack. Honestly, the more I listen to this record, the more I realise just how chock-full of good tunes as well as playing it is. George, you were daft not to push this one a little harder than you did - or didn't.

      Finally, 'Circles' was a song that he had originally demoed in 1968 for The Beatles' 'White Album'. Slow and dreamy, with philosophical lyrics about life and some almost jazzy piano fills, it's pleasant enough but not quite up to the standard of the others.

      BONUS TRACK

      An acoustic one-man performance of 'Mystical One', with Harrison on acoustic guitar, preceded by a bit of chat - in which he can be heard asking for a pencil - adds little to the finished version we heard earlier on.


      PACKAGING

      A 16-page foldout includes full personnel details and lyrics for each track, and also - no joking - instructions on how to mix cement. I hope the patio, presumably in his garden at Friar Park, where this was recorded, was a success. The predominantly yellow colour scheme adds to the summery feel of the record.

      OVERALL

      This album really is little short of a sadly forgotten treasure. Admittedly, as a Harrison fan I may be biased, but in my view this was every bit as good if not better than the material Paul McCartney was releasing at the time. I suspect that general expectations of George's new work were rather low at the time, and that in itself as well as the zero promotion didn't help its chances one bit. But if you can, give it a listen and you might be as pleasantly surprised if not captivated by the vast majority of it as I was.



      [Revised version of a review I originally published on ciao]

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