Living In The Material World was George Harrison's fourth solo album, but the first to appear after the huge success of All Things Must Pass and The Concert For Bangladesh, which had unexpectedly made him the most successful solo Beatle. It is understandable that, at the time, it was seen as a minor disappointment, especially compared to the gigantic All Things Must Pass, an album for which he could choose among the dozens of songs he had written but not recorded in his time with the Liverpool band. That said, with the perspective that time gives us we find a great work, possibly the second best of his career after the aforementioned All Things Must Pass.
For this album Harrison employed a smaller production, reducing the number of musicians involved and focusing on his slide sound – it is arguably the album on which he sounds best as a guitarist, with his Stratocaster sounding economical in notes, but demonstrating an elegant virtuosity in his augmentation of the melody, represented in, usually, two or more fluid slide guitar parts meticulously arranged and impeccably recorded.
The lead single from Living in the Material World, Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), gave Harrison the second solo number one of his career in the US, relieving Paul McCartney's My Love of that position. It was a song in which he again showed his more meditative side, as in My Sweet Lord, giving a hint of where his more spiritual album was going to go. It was a kind of prayer in which some of the best notes of his career as a guitarist can be found. Just by listening to his slide you find the perfect summary of his style, an extension of his personality, both joyful and sad at the same time; like a breath of life made music.
Sue Me, Sue You Blues is reminiscent of those stark blues of the first solo Lennon album, with Harrison using a resonator guitar; it is also one of the few that leaves the spiritual world to talk about the material, in this case of the painful separation of the Beatles, with the entry of lawsuits and lawyers. One curiousity was that when he wrote it, it was McCartney suing the other three members to dissolve their partnership (and not depend on Allen Klein), but when it was released Harrison, Lennon and Starr were also trying to free themselves from the controversial manager.
On The Light That Has Lighted the World - with a lovely contribution from Nicky Hopkins on piano and another great example of Harrison’s slide mastery - he talks about freeing himself from the shadow of his past and the pressures of having been a Beatle. Don't Let Me Wait Too Long is another of the best songs on the album, close to the Day After Day he produced for Badfinger in 1971; while Who Can See It might sound like a foreshadowing of his time with the Traveling Wilburys, as it is a melodramatic ballad that would suit his partner in that band, Roy Orbison, to perfection.
On the title track the best part, the one that elevates the song, is the ‘spiritual bridge’, in which the influences of Indian music reappear. It is not surprising that it was the song that gave the album its title because it best explains how Harrison is, on the one hand, always looking for the ‘elevated side of life’; while on the other living the life of a rock star, or as his then-wife Pattie Boyd said: "with George you never knew if he was reaching for his ever present Japa Yoga prayer bag or the bag of coke". It is also very representative of the sound of the album, more direct and with Harrison's guitar standing out throughout.
The Lord Loves the One (That Loves the Lord) opens the second side - as if our protaganist was going to start his For You Blue for the Beatles' Let It Be. However then the song changes with those horns that he puts in that confirms it is 100% a Harrison song; again with an excellent use of the slide on his part, placing him among the most outstanding ever. With Be Here Now the oriental airs return for another metaphysical song, which sounds like a prayer made into a dream.
Next up is Try Some, Buy Some: a song that sounds more like the exuberant production of All Things Must Pass, which is understandable if we take into account that it is the only one in which Phil Spector is involved. In fact, the song was produced in 1971 to be sung by Spector’s wife, Ronnie - who was to return with an album on which Harrison was to be the main songwriter - but Spector's erratic behavior sank the project; although Ronnie did release the single. Even so, Harrison reworked it for this album, using the same instrumental base, which is pure Wall of Sound, and adding his voice. The song is so good that David Bowie did not hesitate to cover it on his 2003 album Reality.
The Day the World Gets 'Round is a beautiful plea for peace and understanding, again with strings, while That Is All closes the album with a ballad that, very Harrison-esque, you don't know if it's addressed to a woman or a deity. Once more it moves between the material and the spiritual, something Harrison himself confirmed by saying that "love is something universal, when you love a woman, it's God in her that you see".
This is a more religious-oriented album on which Harrison sounds, at times, a bit like he is giving a sermon; but it is also true that once you listen to the fabulous music, all that is forgotten. And this is the album where the ‘musician Harrison’ reached his peak, as well as containing several wonderful songs that make Living In The Material World a more than worthy successor to the superlative All Things Must Pass.