George Harrison, All Things Must Pass

I find it a truism that double albums infrequently justify their length, triple albums even less so. I've written that in less diplomatic terms on less distinguished outings, but this is George Harrison, and the thoughtful Beatle does deserve a thoughtful listen. Less a true triple album than a double with some odds and sods (which Geo. termed "Apple Jams"), it's as if Harrison, freed of the songwriting tyranny of Lennon-McCartney, just let out every jam line and melody he'd trapped inside himself from the last decade. For a change, however, this is not necessarily to say that the quality is overshadowed by the quantity, with Phil Spector returning as producer (Let It Be) and his Wall of Sound to make every track, even the lesser ones, meaty and memorable. The first record is super-strong, with the heavy but irresistable "Wah-Wah," syrupy but endearing airport chant "My Sweet Lord" (Hare Krishna never sounded so good), the rollicky "What Is Life" with full Spector brass and that famously grabby guitar hook, and the pensive musings of "Run of the Mill" and the plaintive, luxurious 7-minute "Isn't It A Pity." Even the lesser entries aren't bad: "I'll Have You Any Time," "Let It Down" and "Behind That Locked Door" don't do much for me but certainly don't make me think my time was wasted. This is not nearly the case by the time we get to the second record, though. "Beware of Darkness" is a strong start but the obnoxiously folksy "Apple Scruffs" feels like a session castoff from some lesser effort, and it certainly doesn't set up the glorious depths of "Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp" that follows it. It happens again with the weak, embarrassingly trite "I Dig Love" kicking the legs out from the wistful title track that precedes it and the "Wah-Wah" of the second disc, the grim and insistent "Art of Dying," that follows. The stripped-down and foreshortened "version two" of "Isn't It A Pity" feels like a ripoff, and "Hear Me Lord" is a cloying and unsatisfactory conclusion. This fall-off leads very neatly into the third record, the Apple Jam, which is pure instrumental and pure tedium, lots of noodling in various genres that doesn't seem to have a point (though "Thanks for the Pepperoni" and "Out of the Blue" are at least compelling, at least for a little while, until the repetitiousness dooms them like the others). That sort of useless musical tack-on would ordinarily be an argument for three stars, but there's so much incredible musical and compositional talent on the first disc and even at times on the second that the appeal of this otherwise overwrought album cannot be denied. Another double album truism I have is that making some of them half as long would make them twice as good. In this case, though, I'm not sure that assertion holds: there are certainly tracks I can do without, and the entire third disc is a near total throwaway, but even cutting out all that you'd still be left with a darn good double album that few will surpass in its production quality or stylistic variety. All things do indeed pass as he says, even truisms. The various CD reissues add the beguiling "I Live For You," a perennial bootleg that really should have been included on the original pressings, three alternate mixes ("Beware of Darkness," "Let It Down" and "What Is Life") that even as historical artifacts don't contribute much, and the disgustingly overproduced 2000 remix of "My Sweet Lord" done for the 2001 remaster. However, I like the faux gatefold and the mini-sleeves of the 2014 version, and it's definitely never sounded so good. (Content: no concerns.)