Playback: The Brian Wilson Anthology is the first-ever compilation concentrating on Brian Wilson's solo career, and given that his discography is a bit unwieldy, it's not a surprise that Playback is a bit misshapen. Over the course of 18 tracks, Playback samples from nearly every record Wilson released between his eponymous 1988 solo debut and 2015's No Pier Pressure, adding two unreleased tracks -- the brand-new surf tune "Run James Run" and the nice, effervescent Andy Paley '90s collaboration "Some Sweet Day" -- for good measure. Wilson's difficult '90s in general are glossed over -- Orange Crate Art, his 1995 collaboration with Van Dyke Parks, isn't represented here, nor are any of his Don Was-produced Beach Boys covers from I Just Wasn't Made for These Times -- represented by two cuts from Imagination ("Cry," "Lay Down Burden"), which means this is anchored by the 1988 album and the flood of albums released after his touring comeback in the early 2000s. These live shows are represented by two selections from 2000's Live at the Roxy Theatre, and they sit alongside two cuts from his 2004 completion of SMiLE ("Heroes and Villains," "Surf's Up," both originally cut with the Beach Boys and the best-known things here by some margin) and a song apiece from his tributes to Gershwin and Disney, along with cuts from Gettin' in Over My Head (2004), That Lucky Old Sun (2008), and No Pier Pressure (2015). All of these cuts are presented in a sequence that quickly slides from logical -- "Love and Mercy," his best and, thanks to the 2015 biopic of the same name, best-known solo song opens up the proceedings, followed by the SMiLE material -- into a haphazard flow resembling a shuffle play. Instead of highlighting Wilson's musical consistency, this sequencing shows how he could succumb to bad production ideas of the day while remaining singularly obsessed with the past. In that sense, it's a representative collection because it offers gems as it rambles through a series of left-hand turns and is ultimately endearing, not frustrating.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine