Death can do quite a number on a pop song. Pop lyrics are usually just convenient rhymes, but the demise of their author inspires many listeners to riffle through the back catalog in search of foreshadowing--the spookier the better. For instance, when Jeff Buckley, who walked into the Mississippi River one evening and never walked out, sang, "This is our last goodbye," he must have known he had a watery grave in his future, right? And when Kurt Cobain growled, "I swear that I don't have a gun," he was just being gruesomely ironic.
Retrospective analysis can get pretty goofy, but in the case of George Harrison, who really did know he was dying when he wrote his last album, Brainwashed (Capitol), it's unavoidable. During his lifetime, Harrison tested the limits of human patience with his fetish for Zen homilies, and in his final act as a songwriter he has left mystical portent in every rhyme. On Any Road, Harrison rasps, "I keep traveling around the bend/There was no beginning, there is no end." On Stuck Inside a Cloud he takes the mike with him to the great beyond: "Talking to myself/Crying out loud/Only I can hear me/I'm stuck inside a cloud."
The good news is that Zen homilies and pop lyrics aren't all that different. Bless the folks who want to parse every word for reincarnative innuendo, but if you left your inner pothead in a different decade, you can still wander through Brainwashed without feeling like the new guy at Brahman camp. Treat it with the blithe spirit of some of Harrison's other larks, like the Traveling Wilburys or his 1987 cover of Got My Mind Set on You, and you will find yourself having a fine time. Harrison could always write a memorable guitar line, and he does some exquisite work here, turning in a particularly nifty slide on Marwa Blues. Harrison's voice, weakened by cancer, barely gets above the music on many tracks, but if you listen closely, you can hear him dancing through the easy melodies. Or, you can hear whatever you like. --By Josh Tyrangiel