Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Review #24 (Part One): Brian Wilson

Maybe it’s just eighties week around here and no one told me, but I have an irresistible urge to review another album from that decade.
Nineteen years ago, a year before I was born, in 1988, Brian Wilson finally released his first solo album, simply titled
Brian Wilson. For decades, ever since it was obvious that Brian’s talents might be hiding behind The Beach Boys’ official albums, people had been begging for Brian to make a solo album. His first attempt at a solo album came in the form of Adult Child, which would have been a follow-up to the practical solo album of 1977, The Beach Boys Love You. However that would be shelved and now it currently survives on bootleg tapes and the few tracks that were issued on the Good Vibrations box set in 1993. A few tracks did turn up on M.I.U. Album, namely “Hey Little Tomboy”, and L.A. (Light Album) featured his bizarre arrangement of “Shortenin’ Bread”. Overall, it proved that Brian’s childish, simplistic writing was not just a one and done thing for Love You, but it was something that was growing into a habit.
It is also difficult to give someone an idea of what was going on in Brian’s life without mentioning Doctor Eugene Landy. Sort of the Satan and the Allen Klein of The Beach Boys, he acted as Brian's psychiatrist throughout the seventies and eighties. I don’t want to get into the horror stories, but if you are interested, go out and get “Catch A Wave: The Rise, Fall And Redemption of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson” by Peter Ames Carlin. Essentially, though it was he who practically forced Brian into making
Brian Wilson, once he got a short-term contract with Sire Records, a division of Warner. Landy wormed his way into Brian’s creative mind, and he would even get writing credit on various songs (on this album, all the Brian songs on The Beach Boys ’85 and the sole Brian track on Still Crusin’, although his name would later be removed) and the Executive Producer credit for this album (this credit is retained, though, oddly enough).
I also want to note that this will be a two part review. In this first part, I’ll talk about the album itself, and the next part will discuss the gigantic amount of bonus tracks included on Rhino’s 2000 re-issue.

Love And Mercy, one of the greatest songs in the Beach Boy cannon, begins not only the album, but Brian’s solo career. It is easily the greatest composition he had been involved with since “Sail On, Sailor” in 1973. It’s the track on the album with the most recognition, as Brian continuously closes his shows with the song. (Although current set lists show that he is not doing so on the That Lucky Old Sun tour.) The song defines the album right from the start. It shows that you will get that odd-eighties synth sounds, but you’ll also get a set of nicely written songs. Imagine this song with the classic Beach Boys sound of the mid-1960s. It would be just as good as it is in the form we have it.
Next is Walkin’ The Line. At this point, Brian’s life was still not as stable as it is today, so knowing what he was going through gives the song new meaning. It’s not just a love song. It’s Brian asking his love to be there through his problems and that he’ll be walking that line until he gets the love, which will ease his pain. The production features are really nice guitar riff, one of the best on the album.
The album’s other stellar number certainly is Melt Away. It is so Pet Sounds, that it’s scary. The bells, the percussion, the backing vocals and the harmonic coda…it all comes together in this song. This is another number that, if he had done it with The Beach Boys, would be even better, as, like it or not, the blend of Brian, Mike, Al, Carl, Dennis and Bruce sound a lot better than the blend of one hundred Brians.
Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long, obviously alluding to “Caroline, No”, is another one where you wish Brian had the Boys for the harmonies. The track is a rocking number, but not exactly out of place with the other songs here. The bridge is a nice part, one of the best segments on the album. Overall, a great number.
Stuck in the middle of the album are two short songs, Little Children and One For The Boys. “Little Children” is a quick “blink-and-you’ll-miss” track, simply about how “cool little children are,” according to Brian in the notes. There is no slow part of the song; it’s really just one constant melody, quickly running through the minute and fifty seconds of the track. “One For The Boys” isn’t really a song, but it’s an A Cappella piece, featuring a large number of Brians stacked on top of each other. It’s reminiscent of “Our Prayer”, but a little less spiritual. The track is dedicated to “The Boys” as you could expect. Considering the amount of fighting that was going on, it’s sort of an interesting thing for Brian to devote time on his first solo album for a track dedicated to the group he was trying to pry himself away from.
Side one closes with There’s So Many, or “Solar System Part II”. It is a lot better than it’s similar track on Love You, simply because it doesn’t feel as childish as that song. The track features great harmonies and a unique production, with some interesting, ‘other worldly’ keyboard notes.
Side Two opens with a bang, starting with Night Time. This is my least favorite track, as I find the chorus a little monotonous, but the verses are nice breaks from the dissonant sound of the horns in the chorus (Although, the solo sax in the middle section is really nifty). I’m not exactly sure why, but it was issued as the second single from the album.
It seemed during the eighties, that if you were a big name, you had to have Jeff Lynne produce you, so that’s exactly who Brian brought in, for Let It Shine does have a bit of that Jeff Lynne sound. However, the song does still fit here, as Brian’s sound does ultimately overcome Lynne’s technique. It is a really nice song, with a great bass line during the verses.
Meet Me In My Dreams Tonight is next. Undoubtedly, it’s a nice rocking rave-up, with an incredible opening, easily the best intro on the album. The song is a great up-beat track, with lovely harmonies, and an even better production. Why wasn’t this the second single?
The album closes with an attempt to capture the magic of Brian’s SMiLE again, in the form of an eight minute suite, entitled Rio Grande. It is impossible for Brian to ever recreate the mass amount of creativity that was SMiLE, but “Rio Grande” is a nice attempt at it. Essentially, it takes a SMiLE theme, that is the “Old West” and adds some eighties production values. The track, at times, feels slow and a tad bit too long, but the parts by themselves are pretty nice songs. The track is fun, but when an eight minute tracks really feels like eight minutes, you know there’s a problem. (I mean, like “Hey Jude”. There’s the shortest seven minutes and eleven seconds of your life.)
I’ll see you back here in a couple of days, when I’ll discuss the bonus extra tracks on the Rhino 2000 reissue. I will also rate the album and give some concluding thoughts. See you then!

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