The first shocking thing about Cloud Nine was that it sounded totally contemporary on its release in 1987: After a near-total five-year absence from the public eye, Harrison returned to the studio with co-producer Jeff Lynne, formerly of Beatle acolytes Electric Light Orchestra, and made an album that was very much of its moment, right down to its gated snare sounds and crisp digital mix. The second shocking thing was that it was pretty terrific. Harrison’s voice had never been stronger, the band (including fellow old-timers Ringo Starr, Elton John and Eric Clapton) sounded fresh and muscular, and the Quiet Beatle tempered both his patchouli mysticism and his goony sense of humor to perform the nearly impossible feat of building on the innovations of a generation of artists to whom he’d been a godfather.
The album’s breakthrough hit was actually a cover — Rudy Clark’s ’50s obscurity “Got My Mind Set On You,” graced with a crackling beat and clipped, layered harmonies — but Harrison’s own songs brought him a new wave of young fans, especially the assured rocker “Devil’s Radio” and “When We Was Fab,” a wry, relaxed look back at the Beatles. And a few months after Cloud Nine‘s release, a recording session to produce a B-side for “This Is Love” accidentally created a new band including both Harrison and Lynne, the Traveling Wilburys, which would go on to be another commercial victory.