Nearly 26 years after his death, Harry Nilsson is back with a collection of previously unreleased and unfinished demos. Producer Mark Hudson was working with Nilsson at the time on the project and used his notes from Nilsson to guide the production on Losst and Founnd. Those notes indicated the inclusion of musicians like Van Dyke Parks, Jimmy Webb, and Jim Keltner, but the passage of time has also enabled Nilsson’s son Kiefo to join in on the production as a bass player.
The affection for and intimate knowledge of Nilsson’s style is apparent in the production here, even when the album still very much feels like a cobbling together of ideas. Nilsson’s dabbling in various subjects here represents not only his sharp and active songwriting brain and humanistic curiosity but also perhaps his late-period indecision. Before a meeting with Warner Bros. executives about his demos, Nilsson had not released an album since 1980. Hudson remarks that after that meeting over rough demos, Nilsson had a fire lit under him, which got him into gear for completing these songs. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t survive the process. Regardless of its shambolic nature, Losst and Founnd is a pleasant enough addition to the curious oeuvre of Harry Nilsson, complete with his singular straightforwardness and humor.
The album has a strange, very consistent pattern of alternating between rambunctious rock tracks, and quieter ballads or near ballads. The rock songs fail to land as fully as the ballads, primarily because they require more strain on Nilsson’s voice, which has taken a beating in the time between then and his first record. “Losst and Founnd” is the first track, which uses its rollicking energy as an exciting introduction to this collection of music. It goes on a bit too long and wears itself out, but the energy starts high and welcoming, and the spelling of the title is very much a Nilsson feature. “Woman Oh Woman” relieves some of that pressing energy from track one and introduces a very hummable, easygoing tune. “U.C.L.A.” finds a happy medium between rock and ballad, incorporating a funky, odd, slinky sound with lyrics that essentially focus on how nothing is the same anymore. The song has some light fun with its content; for instance, when Nilsson signs “there is no place like Penny Lane,” and the faint sound of very Beatles-esque peppy horns is heard.
“High Heel Sneakers/Rescue Boy Medley” and “Animal Farm” are two of the rock songs which fail to make a deep impression. However, they are surrounded by much better tracks that really land and wash away the memory of any mediocre tracks on the album. “Lullabye” is very literally a lullaby (with self-aware spelling), directed to a child with lyrics to reassure the child that “there’s no one at the window, there’s no one in the closet, your toys are all asleep, [and] I love you.” Nilsson’s strengths in “sentimental” songwriting (see also: “Without You,” “One”), are on display here as he manages to write a sweet and sincere song without once making it feel treacly or unbearable.
The last few tracks of Losst and Founnd are probably the best run of the album. “Listen, the Snow is Falling” is a musically surprising track that creates an atmosphere as serene as the experience of watching the snowfall outside your window. “Try” is rock-leaning, but without the unnecessary strain on Nilsson’s voice. Again, Nilsson manages to write lyrics that would otherwise be “too” sentimental (“smile your cares away/it’s a special day/people love it when you try”) and to make it sound genuine and natural. “Love is the Answer” is a fine ballad, keeping with Nilsson’s strengths on this collection of songs. “Yo Dodger Blue,” on the other hand, demonstrates Nilsson’s eclecticism, because I am convinced he wrote this to potentially have it be a stadium-ready song for the L.A. Dodgers. It is perfect for it: few lyrics, anthemic production, a refrain of “L.A. loves you.” I can see fans clapping their hands now during the seventh-inning stretch.
The best song of the album by far, and possibly one of the best songs I’ve heard this year is “What Does a Woman See in a Man.” The song is a brilliant illustration of Nilsson’s sense of humor, especially the humor he was so adept at placing in otherwise serious songs. The song begins with beautiful strings and is performed very sincerely throughout. Meanwhile, the lyrics are a savage summation of the common situation of nearly perfect, divine women being devoted to and in love with entirely unappealing men. There are too many delightfully blunt lyrics to quote here, but Nilsson sums up his thesis well with the line, “doesn’t she know that she’s unique, doesn’t she see that he’s just a freak of nature?” It’s a song that needed to be written by somebody, and I’m glad he did it this way, even if it was 25 years ago.
Ultimately, Losst and Founnd is a typical posthumous record. There isn’t quite a cohesion here outside of Nilsson’s voice. Still, his voice—especially as a songwriter—is strong enough to make the relatively short album a fun listen for old fans longing for new material as well as any curious newbies.