GEORGE HARRISON - The Dark Horse Years 1976-1992 (2004)
George Harrison's albums for Dark Horse drifted out of print in the late '90s as his contract with Warner Brothers expired. Over the half-decade, they fetched high prices on the collector's market, as any relatively rare Beatles-related item does, and the demand for these records - along with the Traveling Wilburys albums, which were part of Harrison's Dark Horse/Warner contract - never diminished. At the time of his death in November 2001, the albums were being prepared for reissue, but his passing delayed them for a few more years, and it wasn't until February 2004 that the albums - Thirty Three & 1/3 (1976), George Harrison (1979), Somewhere In England (1981), Gone Troppo (1982), Cloud Nine (1987), and Live in Japan (1992) - were reissued, both individually and as part of the lavish box set Dark Horse Years 1976-1992. All five of the studio albums have been remastered and are graced with a bonus track or two, while the double-live set has been reissued as a hybrid SACD with a 5.1 surround mix (a nice gesture, but it does raise the question of why wasn't the entire set released as hybrid SACD, the way the 2002 Rolling Stones and 2003 Bob Dylan reissues were). In addition, the box set contains an exclusive booklet and a DVD containing video highlights of the Dark Horse years. It seems like the box would be the definitive word on Harrison's latter-day career, and it very nearly is, but it comes short in a couple of ways. First, there is the aforementioned puzzling decision to release only one SACD in the set, which only highlights the fact that the rest of the discs are standard CDs (which do have very good remastering). Second, the bonus tracks are underwhelming. With the exception of Cloud Nine, which has two songs from the Shanghai Surprise soundtrack, there's only one bonus track per disc, and with the exception of Thirty Three & 1/3, which has the fine "Tears of the World," a demo of a song that's on the album. Harrison has a lot of unreleased material in the vault - Somewhere In England is notorious for being reworked on Warner's request, so at the very least the excised songs could have been featured on this reissue - so it's a disappointment that there's not more bonus material here. Third, the DVD isn't nearly as complete as it should have been, containing a ten-minute "Dark Horse Feature," some selections from the Live in Japan video, and the Shanghai Surprise movie, plus seven promotional videos, all prefaced with interview excerpts from Harrison. While the featurette would have been much more interesting if it was expanded to a full documentary, the real disappointment is that this doesn't contain all of Harrison's promotional music videos, with such gems as the lovely "Blow Away" missing in action (some may also wish that the videos had been mixed for 5.1 sound as well). Considering the steep price of the box set, it's hard not to think that this DVD could have been a little bit more thorough. That said, the box set is very well made: the art direction is lovely, the sound is terrific, and the hardcover minibook is beautiful, with good notes from David Fricke. All of this makes it an essential purchase for Harrison fans, who have already accepted the uneven quality of the albums and want them in their collection anyway.
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