By Tom Sinclair
Updated November 22, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST
George Harrison: Peter Figen/Retna

It’s almost impossible not to view a posthumous album by a recently deceased ex-Beatle through a prism of nostalgia and sorrow. One suspects that even if Brainwashed, the final studio effort from George Harrison, were a duff disc, critics would cut it a mile of slack. So it’s nice to report that Harrison’s last will and testament stacks up remarkably well against the rest of his oeuvre. Produced by old bud (and ex-Traveling Wilburys bandmate) Jeff Lynne and Harrison’s son, Dhani, it’s suffused with the quiet Beatle’s trademark warmth, candor, and goodwill. Harrison’s graceful, swooping guitar lines glide plangently over the proceedings, reminding us that he was one of rock’s most distinctive axmen. And his voice, of course, is that of an old, dearly beloved friend.

”Stuck Inside a Cloud,” the first single, embodies the essence of Harrison’s sweetness. ”Never been so crazy/But I’ve never felt so sure/I wish I had the answer to give/Don’t even have the cure,” he sings, somehow making rubbery befuddlement sound like a state of grace. Indeed, Harrison’s Zenlike acceptance of life’s mysteries and injustices was always key to his appeal. In other hands, a lyric like ”down upon my knees/looking for my life” might evoke despair or self-abasement; here, it signifies beatitude.

”But oooeee it’s a game/Sometimes you’re cool/Sometimes you’re lame,” he sings on the perky ”Any Road,” coining a perfectly serviceable and quietly profound mantra. On the instrumental ”Marwa Blues,” Harrison lets his slide guitar do the talking, while a tasteful string arrangement provides counterpoint. He hauls out a ukulele and flips the script by covering the moldy oldie ”Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” and damn if it doesn’t sound swell. The album closes with the opuslike title track, a pounding pop hymn that features a chorus of ”God/God/God” and includes a midsection of a woman reading quotes from ”The Yoga Aphorisms of Pantanjali,” then fades out in a swirl of tabla-and-sitar music. It’s an aptly poignant conclusion to the career of this longtime spiritual seeker, a man now blessedly free of the material world.