All-Time Albums: #54



Love And Mercy 2:52
2 Walkin’ The Line 2:37
Melt Away 2:58
4 Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long 3:15
5 Little Children 1:48
6 One For The Boys 1:47
7 There’s So Many 2:46
8 Night Time 3:34
9 Let It Shine 3:57
10 Meet Me In My Dreams Tonight 3:05
11 Rio Grande 8:12

Given the circumstances surrounding the creation of this album, Brian Wilson’s first officially solo LP, it’s almost incredible that it ever got finished. Let alone that almost 30 years later, it stands up to pretty much everything he achieved in the ’60s with his Beach Boys work (Pet Sounds and Smile excepted, obviously).

While at times you can almost hear the effort and determination from all involved to make this damn record as good as possible – despite a very troubled, barely functioning central figure, a controlling psychiatrist/mentor hovering over everything and tons of money thrown at the project by Sire Records – the actual album is somehow an utter joy.

Its release in the high summer (when else?) of 1988 was a big deal. Q magazine devoted several pages to a feature on the Brian Wilson story to that point, and awarded the LP a 4-star review. Even now, that’s a pretty fair assessment. Sadly, sales weren’t that brilliant (he just wasn’t made for those times) and when Sire were presented with the tapes for its follow-up, entitled Sweet Insanity, in 1991, they chose not to release it. There wouldn’t be another solo Brian album until 1995.

I have an affinity with this album which probably goes beyond what’s in the grooves. Music can be a source of so many things, it can inspire and comfort and create images in my your mind that take you away from stuff in the real world that aren’t easy to cope with. Some people may find that kind of solace and relief in darker music, or music that challenges and has a touch of craziness. Others find it in the sun-kissed harmonies and warm melodies of Fleetwood Mac or The Beach Boys.

Back in ’88, the Beach Boys’ legacy wasn’t all that special, what remained of the band (officially) were reduced to featuring on remakes of old surf hits with The Fat Boys and gamely attempting to soldier on, fake smiles intact. The reappraisal and commercial clout of the Pet Sounds era was to come in the ’90s, so for the time being the attempt to capture something of that magic on “Brian Wilson” was the best you could get.

Beneath the very-80s production sheen (Jeff Lynne’s fingerprints are all over Let It Shine, in particular) and cast-of-hundreds behind the scenes, the sheer beauty of the harmonies on these songs was undimmed by the trials and tribulations of the man himself.

His presence on the project might only have been marginal, by all accounts, but in the same way Lindsey Buckingham made Stevie Nicks’ bare-boned, rehab contributions to Tango In The Night into something decent, so Team Wilson fashioned the illusion that, 20 years after the mythical Smile, Brian’s muse may have been stunted by events of the previous decade but remained intact.

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