All-Time Albums: #39



Hold On 4:27 (UK single, #6)
Release Me 4:55 (UK single, #36)
3 Impulsive 4:34 (UK single, #42)
4 Next To You (Someday I’ll Be) 4:58
5 You’re In Love 4:52 (UK single, #29)
Over And Over 4:39
7 A Reason To Believe 4:05
8 Ooh You’re Gold 4:18
9 Eyes Like Twins 5:03
10 The Dream Is Still Alive 4:09

Take two daughters of Beach Boy genius Brian Wilson, the daughter of Mamas & Papas’ John and Michelle Phillips, team them up with crack songsmith Glenn Ballard, bring in a wealth of high-class session men, and then aim for the heart of US radio; all with the backing of Steven Spielberg’s new music (publishing) label.

Ladies and gentlemen, Wilson Phillips and their self-titled, 10-million-selling debut album.

If the above summary sounds cynical, the circumstances surrounding the group, the record and its popularity (especially in America) actually don’t bother or interest me that much. They never did. I was officially hooked on this CD for the best part of two years, if not beyond. It’s my third most-played album ever, and most of those plays would have been between its UK release in July 1990 and about 1994.

Maybe it’s the Gemini in me, but I had a definite duopoly playing out with my musical tastes in the early Nineties. If I wasn’t hammering Achtung Baby or Pearl Jam or digging out Use Your Illusion yet again, I’d be relaxing to The Blue Nile, Joni Mitchell and Prefab Sprout or swooning away like a lovestruck teenager to this collection of 10 near-perfect songs.

Yes, it’s slick. Yes, it’s airbrushed. Yes, it’s probably calculating as well. And there’s a problem with that?

Well, as long as the material was as strong as Hold On, Release Me, Next To You, The Dream Is Still Alive and – especially for me – Over And Over, it really didn’t matter. Quite literally any of these tracks could have been singles (five were), and they’d have all made the Billboard Top 20 too, I’m sure. In Britain, any real chart success began and ended with Hold On, which made enough of an impact to send the album straight into the Top 10, but the other singles still snuck into the lower reaches of the UK Top 50 and kept their profile above water right into the summer of 1991.

Wilson Phillips were more ’80s than ’90s, at least until they over reached themselves for the next album and mistakenly thought they should now become serious, warts-n-all songwriters (as was becoming the fashion by 1992). Their second LP sadly made a right hash of framing their heavenly harmonies around some rather awkward and embarrassingly confessional songs, none of which had the level of craft and melodic simplicity that everyone had loved on the debut.

The inevitable split happened soon after, but a full-scale reunion came in the mid-’00s, by which time they’d clearly decided to be a slick, airbrushed (and probably calculating) tribute band, churning out nice-sounding cover versions.

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