So, I'm listening to a download of Brian Wilson's remarkable new song-suite "Lucky Old Sun (A Narrative)."
On first listening, I have to say that about 90% of the stuff knocks me out completely. It strikes me that FINALLY, AT LAST, Brian is making the kind of music he should be making at this stage of his career -- mature sounding stuff with bigger thoughts behind it and some thought given to structure and arrangement rather then just a random toss-off of odds'n'ends; very much like an evolution of the best of his 60s and 70s work rather than the odd digression something like "Imagination" sounded like. Its quirky enough that it contains the soul of the man that made "Love You" and "BW88" but polished enough that it sounds like the guy who made Pet Sounds and Smile, too. Much like "Smile" itself, it contains the distillation of BOTH of Brian's personalities, and I think that's what makes it special. Whereas a lot of Brian's later works don't necessarily contain either of them.
It does work best as a whole, but so does Smile, in a way, no matter what your "whole" was (even if it was just your home mix !), and that's kind of the beauty of this kind of music. It has a THING behind it and tying it all down which says to me that some real heavy thought has gone into it. I get the feeling that this is the kind of thing Brian MEANT to do with Smile and stuff like the Fairy Tale, but now he's finally in a place where if he TRIES, and works his ass off, he can pull that stuff off the way he means to.
In a lot of ways it strikes me that this is Brian's answer to "Orange Crate Art." That album has always struck me as Van Dyke's paen to California, sort of a sepia-tinged, nostalgic look at kind of a plummy, comfortable California, the kind of place occupied by a kind of country charmer like Van Dyke. "Lucky Old Sun" is a different animal, but related -- the sepia-tinging is replaced by a 1960s saturated color television set, and its not quite the same California, really -- its very much the California of "Surfin' Safari" but looked back upon from a later period, which is really kind of a neat perspective, in the same way it was great to hear Brian at three-score-and-five years old singing "Heroes and Villains."
Specific songs are gonna have to wait for later, the more I get to involve myself in it. On first blush I adore every incident of the ol' Shortenin' Bread riff, 'cause that's so the heart of Brian Wilson in a lot of ways. And I think "California Roll" kicks my ass in a certain way. There was nothing that struck me as unpleasant or wrong and the narration rang true as well. Oh -- and there's not a question in my mind that these songs are Brian Wilson-penned -- they absolutely contain all the hallmarks of Brian Wilson compositions, and that is as distinctive as a fingerprint. Even his best imitators can't find that THING, that distinctive BRIAN WILSON THING that only Brian can wield. These songs have that in spades. I think even the most paranoid "Brian Doesn't Write His Own Songs Anymore" detractor can hear that.
First blush: not counting Smile, this is the best work he's done since "Brian Wilson 1988," or, if one's being particularly generous (or hates the farting synths on that one), since "Love You" or even since something like "Friends" which was the last time Brian tried a sort of loose "suite" of related sounds and songs. Its certainly the most coherent and striking piece he's attempted since any of his comebacks, and the man who's writing these songs sounds more confident and cocksure than the guy who's been touring for a while. He knows he rules. That's beautiful to see.
Cannot WAIT for a full album of this work.