How does an instant multimillion-selling album become an underrated minor masterpiece? George Harrison's follow-up to the triple-disc All Things Must Pass (which had been comprised of an immense backlog of great songs that he'd built up across the last years of his time with the Beatles), Living in the Material World was necessarily a letdown for fans and critics, appearing as it did two-and-a-half-years after its predecessor without that earlier album's outsized songbag from which to draw. And it does seem like Harrison narrowed his sights and his vision for this record, which has neither the bold musical expansiveness nor the overwhelming confidence of its predecessor. And while there are still some beautiful and delightfully lyrical, charming moments throughout, few of the melodies are as instantly memorable and compelling as those of most of the songs on the earlier record, and some of the most serious songs here, such as "The Light That Has Lighted the World," seem weighed down with their own sense of purpose, in ways that All Things Must Pass mostly (but not entirely) avoided. What Living in the Material World does show off far better than the earlier record, however, is Harrison's guitar work -- unlike the prior album, with its outsized contingent of musicians including Eric Clapton and Dave Mason on guitars, he's the only axeman on Material World, and it does represent his solo playing and songwriting at something of a peak. Most notable are his blues stylings and slide playing, glimpsed on some of the later Beatles sessions but often overlooked by fans.
"Don't Let Me Wait Too Long" is driven by a delectable acoustic rhythm guitar and has a great beat. The title track isn't great, but it does benefit from a tight, hard, band sound, and "The Lord Loves the One (That Loves the Lord)," despite its title, is the high point of the record, a fast, rollicking, funky, bluesy jewel with a priceless guitar break (maybe the best of Harrison's solo career) that should have been at the heart of any of Harrison's concert set. Vocally, Harrison was always an acquired taste, and he isn't as self-consciously pretty or restrained here, but it is an honest performance, and his singing soars magnificently in his heartfelt performance on "The Day the World Gets Round," a song that resembles "Beware of Darkness" and also, curiously enough, "Across the Universe." Perhaps a less serious title would have represented the album better, but nobody was looking for self-effacement from any ex-Beatle except Ringo (who's also here, natch) in those days. Even in the summer of 1973, after years of war and strife and disillusionment, some of us were still sort of looking -- to borrow a phrase from a Lennon-McCartney song -- or hoping to get from them something like "the word" that would make us free. And George, God love him, had the temerity to actually oblige, to the extent of painting a few signs here and there suggesting where he'd found it and where we might, all with some great playing and some laughs. And it wasn't all serious -- there are pointed moments of humor throughout, especially on the title song; and "Sue Me, Sue You Blues" was a follow-up to Beatles-era tracks such as "Only a Northern Song," dealing with the internal workings and business side of his lingering involvement with the group, in this case the multiple, overlapping, sometimes rotating lawsuits that attended the breakup of their organization. And one track, "Try Some, Buy Some," which he'd given away to Ronnie Spector at the time, actually dated back to the All Things Must Pass sessions. [The 2006 remastered edition appeared as both a standard CD with bonus tracks and the same disc with a bonus DVD. The new edition features cleaner, crisper sound, remastered at a higher volume level that brings out the details of the playing as well as what expressiveness there is in Harrison's voice in sharper relief. There are also two important bonus tracks added on, "Deep Blue," which was originally the B-side of the "Bangla Desh" single, and a fantastic showcase for his acoustic guitar work (and a very personal song inspired by the death of his mother); and "Miss O'Dell," an exuberant and richly produced, light-hearted number (George cracks up audibly twice on the finished recording) that contrasts about as sharply as it is possible to do, with most of the original album's content and the other bonus track (and perhaps Living in the Material World could have used it, and maybe one other song like it, originally). The DVD, running a total of about 15 minutes, included some choice footage of "Give Me Love" from the 1991 George Harrison tour of Japan, featuring George, Eric Clapton, and Andy Fairweather Low (the latter playing the slide guitar part); and outtakes of three more tracks, set to still-frames, and promotional footage at the time, of the album's original manufacture. Dedicated fans will love the outtakes, though many may ask where the rest of the footage of the 1991 tour is and when it might surface (and, while they're at it, where the Splinter recordings are, which featured some of George's finest work in conjunction with other artists).] [The 2006 reissue was also released with two bonus tracks.]