George Harrison – Dark Horse (1974)

History: George’s personal life was a mess by the end of 1973, his marriage was falling apart and he was struggling with drug use. The Beatles partnership was fully dissolved and George went about establishing his own label and helping a couple other recording artists make records before finally returning to do his own. Near the end of recording the album, he also developed a severe case of laryngitis, though that did not stop him from finishing out the vocals on the album and then going on tour.

My own personal history and initial prediction: I’m very familiar with the Everly Brothers version of “Bye Bye Love” but have never heard George’s, and I don’t think I’ve heard any of these other songs before either. The changes George has gone through in his prior solo work mean I have no idea what to expect for this one, and I mean that in a positive way. I hope he finds yet another way to surprise me.

What I worked on while listening:

Review: Well, this was just flat out disappointing. It was not the miserable experience of forcing myself to sit through John and Yoko’s experimental records, but it was a bit painful. Probably the least I have enjoyed any of the more traditional albums so far. Nearly all the songs have a very similar sound to them, to the point that I had a really hard time taking notes on them as I went along, because there really wasn’t anything new to say. While George is expressing the pain and loss he’s feeling, he’s not doing it in a way that really grabbed me or made me feel what he was feeling. Contrasted with the melancholy of Walls and Bridges that was almost soothing, this comes off much more generic. I think George’s vocal issues are really the biggest factor. He largely sounds like he’s straining through most of the songs and it’s not pleasant to listen to. It almost works on “So Sad” to help communicate his pain, but it also makes it really hard to understand him. The title track is the absolute worst of it, and he really should have just chosen to make it instrumental or flat out stopped recording until he was better. Musically there’s really nothing bad about this album, but the sameness means it starts to all blend together for me and made it a tedious listen.

I will say that his version of “Bye Bye Love” is very interesting to hear if you’re familiar with the original version of the song, just because it’s so different. While the Everly Brothers are almost trying to sound cheery through the tragedy, he really leans into it. He also changes up the words here and there too, bringing an interesting combination of bitterness and at least a claim that he was the one who chose to end it. It’s not a version I would choose to return to often but I’m not sorry I heard it.

“Ding dong ding dong” is also an interesting listen because it has a very New Years feel and sound, something you would expect to hear around Christmas time. It might have made more sense to make this the last song on the album, a theme of renewal after all the loss, but that’s not the case here. This album is also far less religious than George’s previous work, with the exception of “It is He (Jai Sri Krishna)” which is a straight up prayer. Apparently George was having a bit of crisis of faith among everything else he was going through, so I guess that’s why we get much less exploration of his faith and feelings.

I’ve been really struggling to even write this review, because I was so disappointed in the record. I tried coming back for a second listen, and I couldn’t even make it all the way through. Who knows, maybe somewhere down the road I’ll hear one of these songs at just the right time and enjoy them, but for now I’m leaning toward saying that this is an album you are free to skip.

Next Time: John records an entire album of classic Rock ‘n’ Roll.

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