During the last few years of his life, George Harrison outfoxed a number of obstacles — from being attacked and stabbed in his own home by a mentally deranged young man to beating his first battle with cancer to finally coming to terms with his role as a Beatle. Similar to John Lennon, Harrison's musical activities took a backseat to personal fulfillment, film production and Formula One racing. Aside from a tour of Japan with Eric Clapton and his involvement with The Beatles Anthology project, Harrison maintained an extremely low profile during the 90s. But even as he shunned the spotlight — preferring instead to dawdle in his garden — music was on his mind and sporadic recordings were made. Unfortunately, he wouldn't live to see it through. As posthumous releases go, Brainwashed is hardly a hodgepodge of leftover scraps and outtakes. On the contrary, the late and "quiet" Beatle went to great lengths to ensure his final release of heartfelt songs would make a lasting impression.
Brought to life by co-producers Jeff Lynne and Harrison's son Dhani, Brainwashed validates the guitarist's determination to keep his chin up and wit intact to the very end. While there is a steady stream of cynicism planted in the lyrics, especially in the title track, a sense of spiritual contentment and acceptance is pervasive throughout. The optimism that spills over into the opening notes of "Any Road" is testimony to the fact that any doubts are peripheral afterthoughts that scarcely enter into the equation. With the fervor of a Traveling Wilbury, Harrison ponders his options and offers, "And if you don't know where you're going/Any road will take there" between balefuls of slide guitar that take flight over an acoustic and rhythmical undercurrent. The tone becomes more dramatic, yet soothing during "Pisces Fish" as Harrison finds salvation, swimming upstream in search of answers and proclaiming, "I'm living proof of all life's contradictions." "Rising Sun," "Stuck Inside A Cloud" and "Run So Far" convey similar themes of a yearning for meaning and self-worth in a life extensively chronicled and dissected by others, but never quite understood on its own terms.
For the CD's lone instrumental "Marwa Blues," Harrison taps into a rare streak of simplified beauty without coming off as pretentious or overbearing. Indeed, it could pass for a snippet of incidental music; but knowing its author makes it all the more profound. Just when you think things are going to get really heavy, Harrison pulls out his trusty ukulele and blissfully strums through a glowing rendition of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's "Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea." Perhaps it was intended to set up the listener for the list of modern day gripes he espoused on "Brainwashed." As straightforward as anything from a Beatle since Lennon's "God," Harrison condemns everything from the NASDAQ to cell phones before he falls into a peaceful chant that finishes the record on a pious note. Comparisons to the 1970 opus All Things Must Pass seem rampant, but Brainwashed is closer to Harrison's last full solo outing from 1987, Cloud Nine. The aural feel is pure Jeff Lynne — right down to the saccharine harmonies that occasionally extricate the emotion. Overall, however, the collection is a glorious send-off that no Harrison or Beatle fan should be without.
~ Shawn Perry