Losst And Founnd
Well, it’s here now – you can hear it – the final (posthumous) Harry Nilsson album. The record Harry was working on in the mid-90s. He laid down the vocal cuts on what was to be his comeback album. He hadn’t recorded a record since the late-1970s; the death of John Lennon part of the reason he withdrew and concentrated on family life. And in 1993 he was in need of work – he’d run out of money. And whatever creative urge was there too of course.
But in early 1994 he died. The first heart attack from a year earlier couldn’t kill him but no sooner than he’d returned to the studio and finished his first set of album vocals in over a decade and he was gone. The album, too.
So what you’re hearing is tracks built up around Harry’s vocal parts. The band includes studio legends (Jim Keltner) and Nilsson’s bass-player son, Keifo. Original project producer Mark Hudson is at the helm.
It’s as spectacularly all over the place as you’d expect from Nilsson. In scope it is nearly as wide as Nilsson Schmilsson though the overall impact of this album and the feel of it in general is far closer to that final record recorded and released in his lifetime, Flash Harry.
The opening title track feels like what’s left of the Traveling Wilburys reconvened and asked Elvis Costello to step in and cover the Tom Petty role. Woman Oh Woman feels like Love You-era Beach Boys with Nilsson’s voice not sounding as ravaged as it did in the mid-70s but more tired than it did in the early 80s.
There’s some charm here – for sure. No classics. But plenty of charm. And nice nods to the sort of nostalgia that was always driving Harry, one part lounge-act ham, one part sincere, original balladeer. U.C.L.A repeats his “Beatles Medley” trick from 1969’s You Can’t Do That, taking snippets of melody and musical motifs from his friends in The Fab Four and recontextalising some standalone lines from various Beatles hits. We get horns in the background when he sings, “there’s no more Penny Lane”, and a waft of strings after “there’s no more Yesterday”. There’s a wonderful ghostly irony to hearing a dead man sing, “there’s more Ringo Starr” – and we get a little touch of the Come Together opening drum fill to underscore it. This is all served up in that laconic sub-Tropicalia groove that Harry so loved. Or at least found both safe and interesting.
And that’s probably the best description of what fans can find here. Things that are both safe and interesting.
A cover of Yoko Ono’s Listen, The Snow Is Falling feels almost musically racist (would Randy Newman write and release Yellow Man today?) but is more interesting than the rock’n’roll medley pastiche of Hi Heel Sneakers/Rescue Boy which falls more into the ‘safe’ category.
There’s something so quintessentially ‘Harry’ about this though when he’s in full stride, opening the song Animal Farm with an extended whistle, you can almost see him on a sidewalk stroll; his life a drunken musical.
Or taking – again – from The Beatles for inspiration by nicking the lyrical phrase “Love is the answer” from his mate John and fashioning it into a simple bit of whimsy.
The closer here really is the masterpiece. Jimmy Webb’s song, What Does A Woman See In A Man is wrapped in a gorgeous string arrangement and features a wreck of a man singing his heart out, even as he’s misplaced most of his soul. It’s the perfect piece of self-deprecation for Nilsson to embody. And as he brays away you realise there could never be a perfect ending to his career, life or catalog.
Losst and Founnd offers no full-stop. But as a belated dot-dot-dot it’s ramshackle and sublime. Which is perfectly imperfect. Which was always Nilsson.
You can support Off The Tracks via PressPatron