Out There

Beached boy
Orange Crate Art
Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks
Warner Bros. Records

Whatever their collaborations in the past wrought--most of which was an album nobody's ever heard in its entirety, the legendary Smile album, plus the single "Heroes and Villains"--this isn't the promised return to form. It lacks the lunatic spark, the tortured passion, the lost genius of Wilson's I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, a madman's autobiography set to music. And for all the hysterical psychobabble of Wilson's 1988 eponymous solo "debut," at least it was his pain coming out of his mouth. But this is Van Dyke Parks' album all the way: He wrote the songs, he arranged them, he produced them, bringing in Wilson to sing them after the fact.

And so it plays itself out like an echo of what was or what could have been--the multi-tracked vocals that sound like self-contained harmonies, the bright Beach Boys sound without a beach and with nary a boy in sight, the dreamy and picturesque visions of California as a place filled with palm trees and full moons and endless summers. It's a sound track to and from a time that doesn't exist anymore, dated even before you slip it in the CD player. And the naive lyrics don't wash after all this time, sounding fake and thin when coming from Wilson's twisted mouth: "I carried a torch for her in the orchard/Apples were her last name/My Jeanine." Parks, though, has always been a musician who got close to good ideas, then scared them off before consummating the relationship. So here's another one--no Smile, just a wistful frown at what could have been.

Borrachita de tequila
Astrid Hadad y Los Tarzanes
Rounder Records

It's a joke, but one this Mexico City singer takes quite seriously: fusing traditional Mexican music (mariachi horns, bajo sexto, guitarron, accordion, vihuela, and all) with a corny affection for gringo pop (especially of the 1940s variety, Andrews Sisters most notably), Hadad is the k.d. lang of our neighbor to the south, but with one notable exception. Unlike lang, who used to sing through a smirk before she started taking herself so seriously, Hadad wrings every drop of honest emotion from the dumbest (translated) lyric, elevating the cornball and kitsch to high drama. She's the drunk of "La Tequilera," the "bird in a cage trapped in your jail of love," "nothing but your sock across the floor," and the best opera singer doing pop anywhere on the continent.

--Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky