11 Years Ago: George Harrison’s Final Album, ‘Brainwashed,’ Released
Celebrating its 11th anniversary this week is George Harrison's understated and deeply beautiful 'Brainwashed,' the famed guitarist and former Beatle's eleventh -- and, tragically, final -- studio album.
Though 'Brainwashed' is indeed a collection of George Harrison-penned songs, it's technically a posthumous set, released almost one year after the legendary songwriter's death, following a lengthy battle with cancer. The songs are vintage Harrison, full of nimble chord progressions, tasteful slide-guitar solos, and warm vocal harmonies -- but 'Brainwashed' wouldn't exist if not for the efforts of producer-instrumentalist (and longtime Harrison collaborator) Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison, George's son.
The seeds of 'Brainwashed' were planted as early as 1988, when Harrison originally wrote the driving pop anthem 'Any Road' (which he whipped together during a video shoot for his 1987 single 'This is Love'). With 1987's Jeff Lynne-produced 'Cloud Nine,' Harrison had regained his critical and commercial standing, and he followed up that project by forming the supergroup Traveling Wilburys (along with Lynne, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty), who released two albums over the next few years. All the while, 'Brainwashed' remained on the back-burner, but its progress was halted by Harrison's throat cancer diagnosis in 1997 and a knife attack from a mentally unstable fan in 1999.
As the cancer spread to his lungs and, finally, his brain, Harrison still charged forward on his music, keeping specific instructions about how the songs and production should be carried out, even recording vocal melodies intended as string arrangements. After Harrison's death on Nov. 29, 2001, Lynne and Dhani Harrison took charge of the album's production, overdubbing any remaining vocals and instrumentation to complete the songs as Harrison requested.
Phenomenally, 'Brainwashed' never sounds -- even for a second -- like an awkward patchwork. Lynne, typically known for his grandiose, symphonic productions with ELO, kept the songs tight and spacious, allowing the unhurried charm and graceful humor of Harrison's writing to breathe freely -- like on the tongue-in-cheek blues-pop of 'P2 Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night)' or the gently atmospheric folk of 'Stuck Inside a Cloud.' There's plenty of pain stirring under the surface, too, if you look for it. It's difficult not to get choked up on 'Cloud,' as Harrison sings, "Never been so crazy, but I've never felt so sure / I wish I had the answer to give, don't even have the cure."
"The album was very cathartic for me," Dhani Harrison said during a 2002 CBC interview. "As I said, it was done at the right time. I dealt with a lot of this as it happened and never shied away from any of the reality of what's been happening over the last few years. Doing the recordings was great and wonderful and really sad as well ... It was a very positive thing to have done so soon after his death."
Though it's been over a decade since its release, 'Brainwashed' remains a tuneful, tasteful source of comfort -- a loving swan song from one of rock's finest talents.
Watch George Harrison's 'Any Road' Video