Brian Wilson

Gettin' in Over My Head

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Stymied by weak songs and trite lyrics, Brian Wilson's spotted solo career hasn't seen many highlights. True, Beach Boys fanatics continue to follow his top-this solo tours, which began with the astonishment of merely seeing Wilson perform on-stage and crested with his live run-throughs of the Beach Boys classic Pet Sounds and the legendary SMiLE (which he'd disavowed on several earlier occasions). His third solo studio album, Gettin' in Over My Head, suffers from several of the same problems that plagued his earlier solo work; still, it's an improvement, musically at least, over both 1988's Brian Wilson and 1996's Imagination. As Brian Wilson concertgoers know, although Wilson remains a bundle of nerves while performing, he has found a group of players who are sympathetic to the Brian Wilson legend and also capable of faithfully re-creating the sound of Beach Boys classics. (Credit also goes to the album's recorder and mixer, Mark Linett, who has fine-tuned every single original Beach Boys album as part of Capitol's ongoing reissue campaigns, dating back to the late '80s). Unfortunately, Wilson has still not found a lyrical collaborator with the power to steer him away from the most inane, sophomoric lyrics to appear on a major pop album in some time. Whether it's a solo composition or one written with a talented collaborator like Andy Paley, Wilson's songs are uniformly embarrassing, and are rarely delivered with any confidence or even the barest evidence of a performing personality. "City Blues," a collaboration with Eric Clapton, finds Brian lamenting, "The strange loud people made a mess of the world -- it wasn't pretty, it's a pity." One song later, a plodding musical rewrite of "Help Me, Rhonda" and "Fun, Fun, Fun" named "Desert Drive," he enthuses, "Throw on your sneakers, T-shirt and jeans/Better take your shades in case the rays get mean." (The closer, "The Waltz," features the worst of all -- "She had a body that you'd kill for, you hoped that she'd take the pill for.") There are only two clear successes on this record. The first is "Soul Searchin'," a Wilson/Paley collaboration from the early '90s that was saved from the fate of its companions by featuring a vocal from brother Carl Wilson. (Although Carl died in 1998, Brian built around the vocal track to complete the song.) Lyrics aside, Carl's soul and emotion rescue the song. That's exactly how Brian Wilson flourished during his salad days, and it's never been more clear that he lacks it now -- "it" being not only musical collaborators, but lyrical collaborators and a lead voice that understands the archetypal emotion behind his teenage symphonies. The other highlight is the title track, a derivative yet beautiful gloss on the classic Pet Sounds style and a rare track where Brian sounds involved and not simply robotic. Although the musicians here understand how to convey complex emotions in a pop song, Wilson and his co-songwriters obviously don't, and it's with them that the blame for this record lies.

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