Friday, October 11, 2013

Brian Wilson 1: Brian Wilson

At a time when some veterans were stepping out with new material, one of the least likely was Brian Wilson. While he’d contributed, albeit minimally, to the increasingly sporadic Beach Boys albums of recent years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame school of fandom was coming around to hail him as a forgotten genius, and one who’d managed to not only survive but overcome the pharmaceutical dependencies that had derailed him. So it was that his first solo album—if you don’t count Pet Sounds, of course—was something of an event, accompanied by a PR push featuring photos of a trim, tan, rested and ready Brian.
Much of Brian Wilson’s success—and the fact that it was even completed—is due to Andy Paley, who did so much work to craft completed tracks around Brian’s ideas. Key producers Russ Titleman and Lenny Waronker helped ensure that the label (Sire, and by extension Warner Bros.) was getting their money’s worth. The original pressing also gave a lot of credit to Eugene Landy, the since-discredited psychologist who exploited his doctor-patient privilege to turn Brian into a petrified kept boy.
Modern recording trends (and Brian’s own attention span) didn’t allow for the contracting of the Wrecking Crew at Gold Star Studios, which had burned down anyway. Instead, Brian was encouraged to create his pocket symphonies using synthesizers and other machines. These days, the pinging effects distract from the melodies, which is too bad, because most of the songs are really good.
“Love And Mercy” would be Brian’s salutation for many years, and it’s a wonderful summation of his fragile innocence and sensitivity to the suffering of others. From that sublime beginning we go to “Walkin’ The Line”, a little throwaway mysteriously co-written with the guy from The Dream Academy and featuring not only the sound of marching feet (get it?) but Terence Trent D’Arby on backing vocals. Much better is “Melt Away”, which melds a sweet melody to an arrangement where every other note is a different chord, both tune and lyrics recalling the low self-esteem of Pet Sounds. Speaking of which, “Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long” updates “Caroline No” with a central message that, as several have pointed out, could be a pep talk to himself. “Little Children” introduces two kids whom the world would soon know as two-thirds of Wilson Phillips, and is over pretty quickly. Another overt family reference is “One For The Boys”, all amazing a cappella, demonstrating that nobody arranges voices like Brian Wilson. “There’s So Many” is a little underdeveloped, more of a record than a song, with too many “spacey” effects covering up what’s missing.
Those wacky space noises are all over “Night Time”, which gets pretty annoying, except during the sections between the incessant choruses. “Let It Shine” gets far enough away from Jeff Lynne’s production for a near-Dion/doo-wop pastiche. It’s a wonderful song, even despite rhyming “fire” with “desire”. With an opening like a music box lullaby, “Meet Me In My Dreams Tonight” is possibly the greatest ripoff of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” ever attempted. To prove that he wasn’t all pop of circumstance, the daring “Rio Grande” was the closest we’d get to Smile for some time, with little fragments poking through here and there. It’s not his best extended work, but boy, is it picturesque, particularly in hindsight, evoking images of the old America in his mind.
As good as the album was, it just didn’t fit with what was happening on either AM or FM radio. To add further insult to injury, the band he left behind managed to get their first #1 hit in decades with the truly hideous “Kokomo”, released right around the same time. As the years have gone by, this little album has risked being forgotten, even as interest in the man’s classic creations has been stoked by continual reissues and further solo albums. Thankfully, Rhino gave Brian Wilson the expanded treatment at the turn of the century, adding timely B-sides and even demos, and removing all songwriting credits for Landy.

Brian Wilson Brian Wilson (1988)—4
2000 CD reissue: same as 1988, plus 15 extra tracks

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