All Things Must Pass
Apple / Capitol Records, 1970
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/16/2008
The breakup of the Beatles has become steeped in mythology, with fans of the legendary group taking sides on which member should receive the most blame. The stress and discord that plagued the band in their waning moments has been parodied, ridiculed, analyzed, and broken down into incredibly small facets by pop psychologists and rock journalists alike, in a vain attempt to find “THE reason” the Beatles broke up. What is often lost in the hullabaloo is that when the Beatles finally called it quits, the world lost a damn good rock and roll band.
By the time the final notes had been played on Abbey Road, it had become apparent that George Harrison had blossomed into a strong songwriter, and was capable of creating material that could stand alongside the juggernaut duo of Lennon/McCartney. But due to the conflicting egos within the band, Harrison was relegated to a couple of songs per album, and gradually amassed a large collection of songs that were never to be recorded by The Fab Four.
Thus, upon the conclusion of his tenure in The Beatles, Harrison had the opportunity to shine the spotlight on his own material, which had been previously overlooked. Convening a supporting cast of talented musicians, and enlisting the aid of famed producer Phil Spector, Harrison began to record what would eventually become All Things Must Pass.
Beatles fans tend to place ATMP near the top, if not at the top, of the solo albums delivered by the Beatles. While it's certainly true that the album contains some of Harrison’s best work, the overall product is bloated, with a third of the album being completely unnecessary.
Harrison himself has commented on the sound of the album; in his words there was too much “echo.” Given that Phil Spector helped to produce, this should not come as a surprise to many fans, but it is a legitimate complaint. “Something,” and “Here Comes The Sun” were beautiful songs, their melodies clear and distinguishable. One gets a sense that there are strong songs on ATMP, but they are buried beneath layer after layer of production.
A perfect representation of this problem arises during the title track. Meant to be a mournful, reflective piece with a hint of optimism towards the future, the song instead is content to rely on saccharine string arrangements and out of place horn interjections. The lyrics are brilliant, featuring Harrison at his best. Read by themselves they are masterful and emotional, but when coupled with the production the song loses sight of its core. For a take on the song that succeeds in a simpler form, find the version contained on Anthology 3.
On occasion, this direction proves to have been suitable for the material. The two most well known tracks from this album, “What Is Life” and “My Sweet Lord,” have a larger-than-life quality to them that occurs directly as a result of Spector’s “Wall Of Sound” techniques. The infectious chants that punctuate the former, and the brilliant opening riff that opens the latter aid the cause towards memorability. Album cuts such as “Wah-Wah,” and “Hear Me Lord” experience the same lift, and are well worth the time to listen.
The final third of the album represents the “Apple Jam” portion of the album, featuring Harrison and other famous musicians (including Eric Clapton) deliver a handful of instrumentals. As talented as the individuals are, there is no discernible reason to include these performances on the record, as none of them are compelling listens. Robbing the album of its momentum and more fitting closing track “Hear Me Lord” in this manner does All Things Must Pass a disservice.
A triple album was the only way for Harrison to come to terms with the material he had built up over the years. Some find the overwhelming amount of material to be a benefit to the album, demonstrating the range and skill of the former Beatle. Had it been pared down to a single album, though, the results would have been much more satisfying.