My favorite 100 albums of all time: #34 ("Cloud Nine")
At 17, when Cloud Nine was released, I was still strongly convinced that no band would ever equal The Beatles musically. I'd started to branch out musically, but the Fab Four still dominated my musical mindset. Harrison had been in a long fallow period – Cloud Nine was five years after the previous studio album, and it was also the last studio album before his death in 2001. But it did come along with a new wave of appreciation for The Beatles and some interesting follow-up projects.
If I recall correctly, K-SHE 95 in St. Louis broadcast the album in its entirety the day (well, night) of its release. (Pretty sure it was K-SHE, but it might have been KSD.) Tape at the ready, I recorded the entire thing and wore that tape into the ground. It was new "Beatles" music, and for a change I was getting to hear it first (along with the rest of the world).
Cloud Nine has an all-star cast (not All-Starr, that was Ringo's thing), and features Elton John, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, and ELO's Jeff Lynne co-producing the album as well as playing on it. It has a little of Lynne's slickness, but it's not overbearing, and if you enjoyed the Traveling Wilburys, you'll notice a lot of similarities here. This was Harrison's "comeback" and he was pretty productive in the next few years.
None of the songs are quite "Here Comes the Sun," or "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," but they're all solid and well done. "Cloud 9" is a fine, 80s-bluesy start to the album. It's up-tempo enough to get the old geezer's up and moving, but not so fast anybody's going to throw a hip. (I feel like I can poke a little fun here, since Harrison was younger than I am now when he recorded this one…) Basically, all the boomers were getting their second wind, and in some cases they had learned a few nifty tricks to put on display.
"That's What It Takes" is a nice and uplifting pop tune. "Fish on the Sand" has a solid groove, and Harrison is sounding as good as ever on vocals. Maybe even slightly more confident, and certainly sounds like he's having a good time.
And then there's my very favorite cut on the album, "When We Was Fab." Harrison manages to send up his legacy, embrace and spoof some of the signature sounds of the later Beatles, and write one hell of a catchy tune at the same time.
"Devil's Radio," is Harrison's swipe at gossip mags and such… not quite as sharp as his take on the British tax system, but he comes by his anger honestly here. Plenty of juicy guitar licks on this one, though that's true throughout.
"Got My Mind Set On You," is an excellent cover, and I adore the chunky backbeat on this one.
Overall, I love this one because it's not just a good album, it's Harrison hanging up the "serious Beatle" hat for a bit and having some fun. And the world dug it a bit, so he got to be in the spotlight in his own right and that was fine too. The album is also, for me, eternally linked to being 17 and strong memories of 1987. Putting on Cloud Nine is a powerful nudge back to the 80s and my teens, in a good way, and that's a good thing to have in your pocket once in a while.