Graham Reid | | 1 min read
As many senior Elsewhere readers or young scholars will know, Greil Marcus once famously opened his review of Bob Dylan's Self Portrait album with, "What is this shit?"
So, eschewing originality, we might say that about the second song on this new album by the still-damaged but still occasionally brilliant Brian Wilson.
Between the beautifully layered vocals of the brief set-up opener and the yearning, if over-produced Whatever Happened ('to my favourite places?") there is some appalling retro-Eighties shit (ft Sebu) called Runaway Dancer.
The name alone should be a warning because It's the kind of crap that might have sounded decent back in the day when Richard Gere or Patrick Swayze were young, cool and smouldering on the big screen.
And then not too long after Wilson takes a backing vocal role for On the Island (ft She and Him) which hardly sets the contemporary world alight either.
From there on this album alternates between "This is the shit!" and "What is this shit?"
As always there are quasi-gems: the wistful instrumental Half Moon Bay which is the domain of trumpeter Mark Isham is really rather lovely; although an Eighties production imposes itself on The Right Time (with Al Jardine) it's nice pop, as is the brightly stepping Guess You Had To Be There (with singer Kacey Musgraves out front); and -- if you can put aside the musical embellishments which swamp it -- Tell Me Why is a fine piece of big hearted balladry.
The final track The Last Song shows more of the old gift than most in a typically sentimental but heartfelt ballad. You can almost imagine Brian and old Surfer Girl(friend) at the beach looking at the last light of the California sun sinking as a cool breeze blows through, and they consider their lives, the damages they've done to themselves and others, and realising that in the end being together is where they should have been.
An album bookended by greatness and promise.
Much as we might want Wilson to be more contemporary (at least he's not singing about high school which he seemed to do for far too long in adulthood) only rarely here does he manage to marry his gifts with music or styles which don't sound borrowed (Our Special Love with Pere Hollens) or mundane.
On his album Lucky Old Sun in '08, Wilson reached for -- and almost touched -- the genius of old.
Here again though, that reach is far too often diminished and such moments of that wonderful gift become just that -- moments -- and, as is often the case, he is sometimes incidental to production and guest vocalists.
Declaration: I don't have any album credits before me so I'm now curious to see who wrote or co-wrote these songs and is responsible for the various production styles.