Let’s face it: being the progeny of a rock and roll legend probably has more disadvantages than perks. Being the son of a Beatle is likely all the more stress-inducing if one is trying to survive as a recording artist without the assistance of a trust fund. John Lennon’s offspring and Paul McCartney’s son (his name is James, by the way) have offered respectable releases, but have largely suffered the misfortune of having to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. Harrison the Younger’s successes have hardly been meteoric, but Dhani Harrison and his band thenewno2 have managed to attain modest acclaim without sounding like he’s purposefully cashing in on George’s legacy.
The more casual music fan is likely more familiar with Dhani’s performances with his father’s companions during A Concert for George (a tribute to the late Beatle recorded on the first anniversary of George’s passing) and collaborations with his father on the posthumously released Brainwashed, so it may be hard for some to believe that Dhani is a formidable musician and songwriter in his own right. Dhani is better served not making a huge deal of his lineage while still honoring his father by toying with rock music conventions, advice that he most certainly follows on his band’s thenewno2’s sophomore (but not sophomoric) long-player release, thefearofmissingout. Joined by a very capable group of Brits, Harrison and his band show a lot of promise, but the scattered sounds just don’t seem to cohere enough to make the album essential.
Some will inevitably find Dhani’s vocal similarities with his father enough reason to dismiss thenewno2’s newest record on face. But the group finds innovative ways to keep their singer from sounding too much like his father throughout. For starters, the record explores electronic sounds in a far more sophisticated way than George ever could. One of the album’s stronger tracks, “Hanging On”, includes clever (but not over-done) vocal manipulations on its outro that seem reminiscent of tricks used on records dripping with prog influences. The album’s closing track, “The Number”, is probably closest in proximity in tone and sentiment to George’s solo work, but it still manages to be authentically Dhani’s. Jeff Lynne, George’s long-time producer-collaborator, is nowhere in sight – or sound – on the record.
Listeners will find plenty on the record that has nothing to do with Harrison’s DNA, problematic. For example, few will find RZA and the Black Knights’ services on “thewaitaround” worth more than a single listen. The album’s clear low-point, the song is representative of why so many collaborations in this vein simply do not work: it is unnecessary and gratuitous. The song at best is a moment of mania that pushes the envelope and travels into uncharted soundscapes. At worst, it’s a turn off (and potentially a deal-breaker) for those who would otherwise find the rest of the album’s beat-heavy sounds agreeable. The song breaks with so much of the rest of the record that it feels like including it might’ve been a clerical error on the part of the person responsible for sending the album’s final track listing to the manufacturing plant. (And before the ardent defenders of all-things-Wu-Tang saddle in to write me hate mail, just listen to the track - it does the record a disservice.) Other guest appearances on the record are also disappointing. Ben Harper (a band mate of Dhani’s in Fistful of Mercy, a super-group of sorts that also includes Joseph Arthur) joins Thorunn Antonia on “Staring Out to Sea”, but it’s hard to find a reason why these two were needed as hired guns on the track given their limited involvement. Even with Harper’s name attached, the song is boring and another letdown.
Most of what is included on thefearofmissingout is hardly rock music, but that isn’t really a criticism of the record. There are elements of industrial music here, but it’s prettier than industrial music – even during the heaviest moments. Fans of electronic music will find much on the record agreeable, but even that’s a mischaracterization of the lush sounds that Harrison and his band offer listeners. Whatever generic associations critics wish to make, thefearofmissingout is a solid, if unfocused, effort.
// Notes from the Road
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