Dateline: Hollywood, Calif. Date: May 19, 2008. The news: Brian Wilson returns to Capitol Records/EMI, his original label home.
I have been writing about Wilson and his own undeniable brand of melodic magic for just about as long as I have been listening to his music. And during the past four-decades-plus, I have managed to somehow separate not only the good and the bad — and I’m not just speaking musically — but the hype from the hope as well (whenever that was possible, of course).
That said, I take no particular pride, nor shame, in adding myself to the untold tens of thousands worldwide who have been reading the myriad press releases from Wilson’s various labels and PR folk over the years, routinely promising another Pet Sounds — only to lead us way down near “Kokomo” instead, more often that not.
Yes, in 2008 — as in 1998 (the Imagination album and concerts), 1988 (Wilson’s eponymous solo debut) and clear back to at least 1976 (remember that good ol’ mega-media “Brian is Back!” campaign?) — we’ve faithfully turned headphones up, only to be shut clear down by one false note after another. Save for the odd bootlegged “rough” mix or overlooked soundtrack gem (compare, for example, the pure rustic SoCal charm of the unvarnished “Orange Crate Art,” performed by just Brian and his longtime partner-in-pop Van Dyke Parks in the I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times film, against the wholly overwrought version eventually released on the pair’s album), following Wilson’s career on record has been, well, dicey to say the least.
And now? Well, in the words of the latest press release to come our way, “One of popular music’s most deeply revered figures, a legendary writer, producer, arranger and performer of some of the most cherished music in rock history … one of the most gifted and influential pop composers of the last fifty years… announces his return to Capitol Records / EMI, his original label home. Wilson’s new studio recording, That Lucky Old Sun, will be released on CD, CD/DVD, limited edition vinyl and digitally on September 2.”
This, indeed, has piqued (once more) the interest of Wilson faithful the world over. In fact, as the man himself now says, “I’m thrilled to be back home with Capitol, and I’m looking forward to sharing That Lucky Old Sun with everyone. This music is really special to me.”
Inspired by Louis Armstrong‘s 1949 classic of the same name, Wilson and band not only returned to Capitol, but to the actual Capitol Studios right there at Hollywood and Vine (which, legend has it, our hero has boycotted in favor of superior rooms and engineers ever since 1963’s “Surfin’ USA” sessions) to produce his latest 40-minute song cycle, drenched in deep high harmonies, melodic twists only he seems capable of conjuring, and for good measure some linking “vibrant spoken narratives,” courtesy of the above-mentioned Parks.
But another SMiLE, Pet Sounds, Beach Boys Today (vinyl side two) or even Beach Boys Love You, I just must report, That Lucky Old Sun most definitely is not. While certain key passages will undoubtedly warm the hearts of even the most cynical-by-now Wilsonite, and the production overall thankfully veers as far as possible from some of the man’s prior slapdash synth-heavy arrangements, That Lucky Old Sunis, as no less an authority as Carl Wilson would say, a bunt instead of a grand slam.
However, should we honestly expect new works of wonder from an admittedly troubled 66-year-old man at this point in his, not to mention our, lives? For those still finding a contemporary Paul McCartney or Rolling Stones release reason for excitement or even edification, then a new Brian Wilson album can never ever fail to bring comparable pleasures at least. But those who like our music to grow with us as opposed to despite us should always take refuge instead in the relatively modern times of Bob Dylan or Neil Young. Or bask instead even in Brian’s brother Dennis Wilson’s now-available-again Pacific Ocean Blue.
“We are delighted to be working with Brian Wilson for his new album, That Lucky Old Sun,” says Guy Hands, executive chairman of EMI Music. “We all remember the feeling we got when we first heard The Beach Boys’ music. My particular favorite classic is ‘Surfer Girl.’ It always reminds me of driving an open top car down the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Barbara to Malibu. Brian Wilson is an iconic talent with enormous musical influence all over the world and we are very proud to be representing him.”
That may very well be. But to be on the safest side at this extremely late stage in the Beach Boy game, I defer instead to the Master Himself:
“You don’t have to climb the Capitol Tower, or play the Hollywood Bowl, if there’s a roll in your heart, and a rock in your soul …” (That lyric is from “California Role,” which can be found on That Lucky Old Sun.)
Brian Wilson on tour (schedule subject to change):
* July 8: Niagara Fallsview Casino/Avalon Ballroom — Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
* July 9: Ottawa Blues Fest — Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
* July 12: Belleayre Mountain Ski Center — Highmount, N.Y.
* July 13: Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom — Hampton Beach, N.H.
* July 15: Calvin Theatre — Northampton, Mass.
* July 16: Warner Theatre — Torrington, Conn.
* Sept. 12-14: Hollywood Bowl — Los Angeles
— Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.