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Brian Wilson In His Magical Kingdom by Michael Nessing

Contributing Editor Mike Nessing worries about Brian Wilson’s future in the recording industry.
Dear Brian Wilson, I love you but please stop now.

News from the left coast comes in that the legendary Brian Wilson has signed a two album deal with Walt Disney records. The first one will be an LP of Disney “standards” culled from their beloved motion pictures. Brian will create all new versions of these as yet unnamed selections. “Surfer Girl” did lift a few melodic bits from “When You Wish Upon A Star” so the move kind of makes sense. Problem is, as a solo artist Brian’s output could kindly be described as “inconsistent”. This move has all the trappings of an MOR schlock fest that the hard core fans will be avoiding at all costs. It’s probably unfair to say that since nary a note has even been recorded, but my instincts tell me that this is going to be a disaster.

Of course, Brian is not pandering to the hardcore fans here. If he was, he’d be holed up in a pup tent in the middle of his living room with Van Dyke Parks, sucking on the business end of a hookah and composing a three part rock and roll symphony about the moon landing. I’m not entirely sure I’d want this to happen either, but I would sure be first in line to snag my copy. The problem here is that it seems forced, contrived and not the least bit genuine. Something that you can put with the magazines at the check out counter at the grocery store.

The second recording is another “covers” album, but this one will be versions of classic tunes by George and Ira Gershwin. There are even going to be a couple of unfinished pieces included here that Wilson himself will actually add to and complete. This one at least piques my interest a little, but again I fear it will miss the mark, and simply add to the near misses and cringe worthy moments that have plagued the man’s solo career.

I hope I’m wrong, but history proves me right. 1988’s self titled offering was a thrilling glimpse into what could be, but ever since then it’s been nothing but unfulfilled promise.

The second offering, “Sweet Insanity” was permanently shelved after the Dr. Landy mess. Then after co-writing a decent batch of tunes with Andy Paley, Wilson inexplicably let the songs rot on the vine and went in an entirely different direction on his second official release, “Imagination”. I’m still not entirely sure which direction that was, but suffice to say it was the wrong one.

This has been the way of not only Wilson’s solo career, but that of the post ‘60’s history of The Beach Boys themselves. Nothing but missteps and bad decisions too numerous to mention here. Only the 2004 official release of “SMiLE”, Wilson’s aborted follow up to “Pet Sounds” offers anything in the way of consistency. Mainly because all of those little fragments that have been bootlegged to death were finally put in the proper sequence, making for the thrilling listen experience that we all believed it to be. Even though they were re-recorded, all attempts were made to be as faithful as possible to the originals at least to these ears.

So pardon me for being underwhelmed , but I’ve tried very hard to like “Imagination”, “Getting In Over My Head” and his last one “That Lucky Old Sun”. They are pleasant enough, and they have their moments. Overall, though, they do nothing for the man’s legacy, and may in fact end up detracting from it. Brian Wilson will no doubt be remembered an one of if not the greatest composer of the 20th century. Which is why he should just stop.

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