Sound — 9
"Wonderwall Music" is the first solo album released by The Beatles member George Harrison and first amongst all of The Beatles. This was the first pressing too under the Apple record label and was the soundtrack to the film "Wonderwall." This is mainly an instrumental album besides some non English vocals and a slowed down spoken word track all of which was recorded in England late 1967 and January 1968 in Bobmay, India. Peter Tork of The Monkees appears on this album playing banjo and Eric Clapton on electric guitar. Al of the tracks on this album were composed by George Harrison and they are very free form and experimental. Clearly this album wasn't meant to to be a chart topper, no singles have been released from this album since it was made back in 1968. Harrison himself does not appear as a player or singer in here, but rather he presides over the groups of Indian and British musicians, with half of the cues recorded in London, the other half in Bombay.
The Indian tracks are professionally executed selections cut into film cue-sized bites, sometimes mixed up with a rock beat, never permitted to develop much. George Harrison is more of an underrated Beatle and never seems to get his proper recognition for his beautiful sitar works. This album really showcases some techniques and knowledge learned from Ravi Shankar on Indian music in general. The whole essence of this album tends to be Indian Hindustani folk music mixed with old style English '30s type music/piano compositions along with a nice delivered heavy psychedelic rock track "Ski-ing" where some nice guitar work from Clapton and Harrison is displayed. The whole usage of music in tracks like "Cowboy Music" and "Drilling a Home" are seemingly included with the intention of being comical tracks to add for measure to show the difference between a whole barrier that is separating these to cultures from meeting or communicating. The standard normal English pop is being too mundane or boring and there needs to be some venturing into different culture and heritage music, "Wonderwall" is a rare meeting of the two worlds as a whole symbolist concept album in it's own right.
Lyrics — 9
This album as a whole is a fascinating if musically slender mixture of sounds from East and West, everything casually juxtaposed or superimposed without care of any particular order. Occasionally, the overt footsteps of a Beatle can be heard: "Party Secombe" is a medium-tempo rock track that should remind the connoisseur of "Flying"; "Dream Scene" has Indian vocals moving back and forth between the loudspeakers over backwards electronic loops. Taken the understanding that this is Harrison's first album and first self production. It is eclectic in the same way as delicately handled sophisticated editing of musical numbers with a true organic and actually spiritual core, come of somewhat like a diamond in the rough here, he knew he wasn't Phil Spector, but his vision for "Wonderwall" was beyond that sort of stuff. George Harrison being trained by Ravi Shankar led to the first I believe blending of sitar being used with tabla and other Indian and exotic instruments with psychedelic western music. Know you must that it is a record that in all it's delicacy takes you places, it works out somewhat shy in manner from the opening microbes, but develops in time through many a sophisticated and telling arrangements, although mostly a subdued affair, there are part time ventures into Charleston ("Drilling a Home") and C&W ("Cowboy Museum") this should not me misunderstood as far out or directionless. It is all a part of the Producers plan, the album culminates in the mournful and subdued title track "Wonderwall" before it rounds of with the ethereal "Singing Om" it's all well and calculated as it was always meant to end of this way. With "Singing Om," so recognise that the performer, composer, arranger as producer fearlessly expresses his spiritual commitment in the most candid and modest of terms, in realising this you may not be as surprised to find he showed full commitment into producing music and hymns for the Radha Krsna Temple in London, not long after this.
If you must see a Beatles connection please relate it only to the fact it was initially released on apple, in reality this has nothing to do with Beatle-mania or "the Quiet Beatle" it is nothing other than a showcase of a mature and visionary artist making his full-length debut on the said label, his merits are all on "Wonderwall," so it is easier for you to access it, if you take the fact he was an ex-Beatle out of the picture. "Wonderwall" is in every sense of the word, Harrison's masterpiece, and it remains as such after all these years, while "Sgt Pepper" was sold on eBay all these years ago after the initial fascination met it's demise.
Overall Impression — 10
For an album like this I would say you have to look beyond the fact of who plays on the album and to listen through it in its entirety from an artist's complete vision, something that you must experience, there is feel on here of the time it was made with tracks in Indian folk tradition but ones that were also avant-garde in their nature and the whole work being somewhat ahead of its time. "Wonderwall" is a genuinely brilliant concept album by George Harrison with tracks all merging together to convey the drab of standard pop and mainstream, George Harrison clearly was not going for the mainstream conformist bullsh-t here, he made a raw organic album full of originality, fusing the concepts of western and eastern music together so the listener can experience it as a spiritual masterpiece. I mean all the buildup to the ending track "Singing Om" is lovely. The main stress is not pop - it is art and a sophisticated if somewhat delicate presentation of Indian folk music, in it's most organic form.
This is not a far out one off project, George Harrison was dead serious and so into it, physically as well as spiritually. If you expect "Mr Fantasy" era Traffic (I know "Paper Sun" is on your mind right now. "Head" era Monkees (no "Can You Dig It" here or "Satanic Majesties" era Stones (no it's nothing like "Gomper")), "Wonderwall" is way beyond that, it's even if you even could call it psychedelic. Some of my favorite tracks would be "Red Lady Too" with those haunting dreamy piano lines, "Ski-ing," and "In the Park." This whole raga drone Indian folk/psych concept is really just more innovation for such a time, I think George Harrison was one of the first to help bring this into mainstream music but I think it was too complex and sophisticated for the standard mainstream pop listener, this is a really intellectual album. "Wonderall" is a masterpiece in the very true sense of the world and there are few albums as intimate as this one. If you want to experience it, you may very well get the digital re-master. Problem is however that if you want to sense the delicate nature of "Wonderwall" in full bloom finding the original vinyl is the best path, how long this may take, because with the cd other than being self-explanatory digital (I know from experience) it is easy that you will make the mistake of singling out "best bits." Or that you start skipping back and forth between certain segments or upload some of them to iTunes, just to give a glimpse of this stuff to your acquaintances, this may always hinder you from experiencing "Wonderwall" in its essence from side one to side two, which would be unfortunate.