Brian Wilson

The best you can say of the third solo record from Brian Wilson--third, that is, after one bootlegged fiasco and one ditched "comeback"--is that it doesn't further diminish his legacy. It is what it is, which is to say it strains to suggest in spots what he once was so effortlessly, the nutso naïf putting a smiley face at the end of every tear-stained couplet. But the institution is forever competing with his ancient echoes, of which this disc contains a few ("You've Touched Me" sounds '66 when you're not really paying attention), just not enough to merit comparisons to even Friends or Surf's Up much less the deservedly famous stuff. And the guests, among them Elton John and Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney, further distract and distance; among the four of them, there hasn't been a single memorable musical moment since, oh, 1975, to be awfully generous.

Much of this stuff comes from the aborted mid-'90s sessions with producer-songwriter Andy Paley, and little was worth the wait, even "Desert Drive," which already sounds 40 years old--not bad if you don't own Endless Summer. Odder still, but compelling nonetheless, is the Van Dyke Parks co-write that ends the record, "The Waltz," in which Wilson recalls being "back at that high school cotillion" pining after the girl wearing the angora sweater. It's old-man pop topped with time-machine harmonies; Smile, though you're heart is breaking. The kids will forever wonder why their folks ever made such a fuss. Someday yet, he may remind them.


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