Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Brian Wilson Or, How I Learned To Stop Believing and Just Love The Beach Boys
There's a scene in "Annie Hall" where some third-rate comedian is looking to hire Alvy Singer as a joke writer. Woody Allen's character sits in horror, wearing that "frozen smile," as this buffoon preens and prances his way through some embarrassing schtick, to show Alvy, the potential employee, the kind of material he needs. This "frozen smile" is the exact expression that remained on my face for the entire 38 minutes of "That Lucky Old Sun," the new release from Brian Wilson. I couldn't believe my ears.
I will set the record straight. I love the Beach Boys. You know, many don't. Some hear "I Get Around" and "Fun Fun Fun," and, well...all of the Boys' 60's hits as nothing but novelty songs for summer. (They are wrong, of course) More than a few have never even heard a note from the groundbreaking 70's albums "Holland," "Surf's Up," and "Sunflower." And really, is there a more perfect pop tune than "Don't Worry Baby?" I think not. Brian Wilson is a legend, a genius, one of the world's greatest composers and a national treasure.
That said, I have no problem tossing aside those accomplishments like a half-eaten chicken wing when the bleu cheese is gone, once I listen to any of Brian Wilson's solo work. From his overrated, eponymously titled debut of 1988, through the painful and mostly laughable collaboration with Van Dyke Parks, "Orange Crate Art" of 1995, to the much-hyped 2008 release "That Lucky Old Sun," Brian Wilson sounds like a shell of his former self. That's because sadly, he is. We all know of his health problems, and his is one of the sadder stories in music. For this, the man gets an A for effort, but his solo output falls far short of that passing grade.
"That Lucky Old Sun" plays as one long suite, a love song to Brian's beloved state of California. Interspersed with narrative, the album is a hokey pastiche, that sounds less like the SoCal of the 50s and 60s that Brian is paying tribute to, and more like a dinner theatre revue about the Beach Boys. Wilson's husky vocals, even when singing about happy things like "A Good Kind Of Love" or the woman who will forever be his surfer girl, are lugubrious. It's an uneasy combination that even with my love and respect for Mr. Wilson, I cannot endure.
I love you Brian. I hope you have another 10 records in you. I'll suffer through them all with you. But I needed to tell it like it is.