Dhani Harrison – Innerstanding: Album Review

First solo album in six years from The Mystic Beatle’s only offspring is a venture into gothic electronica.

Release Date:  20th October 2023

Label: H.O.T. Records/ BMG

Formats: CD / 2LP vinyl / Digital

If we disregard appearances on his dad’s later solo work, we first really became aware of the scale of Dhani Harrison’s abilities in around 2006, through his live and recorded work with thenewno2.  Since then, he’s been all over the place; his extensive CV includes a stint in Fistful of Mercy, alongside Ben Harper and Joseph Arthur, a high-profile role in composing film scores (2013’s Beautiful Creatures and the following year’s Learning To Drive are his) and music for television (Good Girls, Outsiders and Dogs) plus, of course, his enduring vocation as the principal curator and champion of his father’s immense legacy.

He’s been a keen collaborator, too, and over the years he’s worked with artists as diverse as Wu-Tang Clan, Annie Lennox, Pearl Jam, Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne, John McLaughlan, UNKLE, Regina Spector and Prince.

On the solo album front, however, things have been relatively quiet.  Dhani released his debut solo album, IN//PARALLEL,  back in 2017 and it’s only now, six years later, that he’s finally got around to a follow-up.  And, even for an artist as musically chameleonic as Dhani Harrison, Innerstanding is quite a departure.  In his press release, Dhani invites listeners to join him on a sonic journey that knows no limits, and that’s an excellent way to describe Innerstanding – the album is a bold venture into the depths of gothic electronica.

There’s no gentle introduction to what Dhani is up to.  We’re plunged into the deepest of electronic groove right from the start with opening track, Dangerous Lies.  The dystopian electronics provide a soundtrack for an unsettling vocal that spits out a liturgy of issues that are the subject of current media disinformation, whilst wailing guitars add to the disturbing ambience.  Dhani has claimed in interviews to be beyond politics – “Post political” is the phrase he uses, but, on Dangerous Lies, he veers perilously close to the boundary that divides political commitment from apathetic neutrality.

Innerstanding features a number of high-profile guests and Graham Coxon, Blur’s lead guitarist is the first such guest to appear.  Dhani and Graham first hooked up in LA before the pandemic and they’ve become pretty close buddies.  Here, he adds gritty, distorted guitar to New Religion, one of the album’s angrier songs.  Dhani’s vocal is grainy, but human, as he chants the “I ain’t gonna dance for a new religion,” and his commitment is such that, spacy electronics aside, this is a song that would sit comfortably on the John Lennon/ Plastic Ono Band album.

It’s another guest – Leila Moss, vocalist with The Duke Spirit – who contributes a dreamy, haunting, vocal to Ahoy There! – the album’s longest track.  An early highlight, it builds slowly from its simmering, synth-laden beginnings into an almost poppy affair, awash with Beach Boy harmony vocals and lashings of space-bound guitar soloing. 

There are several tracks on Innerstanding where, from my viewpoint at least, the lyrics are almost irrelevant and the vocals are, instead, an additional feature of the soundscape.  That’s certainly the case on La Sirena (it means ‘The Mermaid’) – perhaps my favourite track and, in some ways, the track that defines the whole album.  A wonderful slice of ambient electronica, it’s almost symphonic in places as it lures the listener into a state of total immersion.

Another highlight is Damn That Frequency, the album’s lead single.  Graham Coxon’s back and this time he’s playing sax – although, to be honest, I’m not sure I could distinguish his contribution from the overall sound.  What would otherwise be an almost conventional song is given a new dimension by the fascinating array of sounds that Dhani conjures up.  I even detected a passing reference to one of Daddy Harrison’s greatest moments in a string sequence that seemed to have been lifted directly from Within You Without You, and there are shades of Beefheart to Dhani’s voice as he sings the “Damn – that frequency’s so low” refrain.

Australian vocalist Mereki is the next of Dhani’s friends to offer a helping hand, as she adds a soft, sweet edge to counteract the otherwise uncompromising harshness of The Dancing Tree.  Half rap, half heavy metal, it’s quite funky in parts.  And Dhani’s unadopted political sympathies get a further airing on Right Side of History, a rocky number that almost ventures into mantra territory.  Dhani’s admission that he’s “on the right train” is followed by the vitriolic “Hey – Mr Soul-Sucker vampire parasite – we all love you to death, so come on and join the ride,” as the song reaches its tortuous climax.

The dramatic, slow-burning Ghost Garden is another favourite.  Ghostly drones are punctuated by a crashing keyboard that retains the vampire motif from the preceding number and (I admit I might be looking for this…) I detect a familial Indian feel to Dhani’s vocal delivery. 

The surprisingly intimate I.C.U. is, perhaps, the most tuneful offering in Innerstanding, particularly when the focus switches away from the dramatic brooding electronic backing and onto Dhani’s voice.  And the heavenly choir backing vocals are quite something, too.  And so it is that, after such a dose of relative melodicism and a gentle segue, the anarchy of closing track, Wolves Around The City, comes as something of a shock.  Mereki’s back to restore some level of order to the cacophony of sounds and, ultimately, it’s yet another song that engages the listener as it surges through occasional dips into weirdness.  Comes complete with farewell drones and werewolf howls.

Innerstanding won’t appeal to everyone, but, if you’ve got an open mind and an adventurous streak, it’s well worth a listen.  

Watch the official video for Ghost Garden – one of the album’s standout tracks – here:

Dhani Harrison online: Official Website / Facebook / Instagram / X (formerly Twitter / TikTok / YouTube

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