Harry Nilsson is one of those classic singer-songwriters you don’t think you know until you hear him sing. His seminal version of the lonesome ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’ is 50 years old this year, and remains one of the most perfect slowies of the 20th century. The Beatles worshipped him and his fondness for lavish pop experimentalism, beach-y rhythms and smooth attitude. He basically invented the power ballad with his 1973 version of Badfinger’s belting ‘Without You’.
Most recently Nilsson provided the recurring sonic backdrop to Natasha Lyonne’s bathroom-based rebirths in Netflix’s radiant Russian Doll, with his jaunty ‘Gotta Get Up’, while Bruce Springsteen made no bones about mercilessly ripping him off on his latest album ‘Western Stars’.
Like all good rock legends, the stories surrounding Harry Nilsson are just as fascinating as his impressive musical output. A member of the Hollywood Vampires drinking club along with John Lennon, Alice Cooper and Ringo Starr, Nilsson also owned a seemingly cursed flat in London, where both Cass Elliott of the Mamas and The Papas and The Who’s Keith Moon died.
Nilsson himself passed away back in 1994, but in a time where it feels like posthumous material is ready for release as artists are still being lowered into the soil, it seems strange – and also highly refreshing – that it has taken 25 years for the first listen of ‘new’ Nilsson music. It’s been longer still that fans have had to wait, as before his death Nilsson hadn’t released an album since 1980’s ‘Flash Harry’, which – despite featuring co-writes and collaborations with Starr, Lennon, Dr John and, oddly, Monty Python’s Eric Idle – was largely overlooked.
In fact, the songs that make up ‘Losst and Founnd’ were set to feature on a Harry Nilsson comeback album, with the final vocal takes recorded only hours before he passed away. Now, after decades in stasis, those demos have finally come to light, after being fleshed out by Nilsson’s son Kiefo and the late star’s old friends, including the iconic songwriter Van Dyke Parks.
What’s strange is how contemporary the resulting 11 track album feels. If anything it sounds more like Mac DeMarco than DeMarco himself, especially when it comes to the laid-back groove of ‘UCLA’ and ‘Listen, The Snow Is Falling’, not to mention the tropical-pop that bounces along throughout the surrealist ‘Animal Farm’. You can also imagine Alex Turner’s ears pricking up when the sweeping, sleazy orchestration of ‘Woman Oh Woman’ kicks in, coming over like the very best elevator music that the Tranquility Base Hotel has to offer. And while these might not be Nilsson finest ever songs, it’s nothing less than a joy to hear him singing again.
- Release date: November 22
- Record label: Omnivore Recordings