No Pier Pressure
3 out of 5 stars
The stellar history of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson is so indelibly etched into the American music fabric that he has rightfully become an iconic, living legend figure. This is Wilson’s first batch of original songs released under his name since 2008. It was originally intended as a follow-up to the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary and surprisingly successful That’s Why God Made the Radio album.
But, as usual, intergroup squabbles busted those plans. Wilson then tried a Jeff Beck collaboration which, while yielding a fruitful if somewhat incongruous joint tour that found the two icons collaborating on stage, oddly never had a commercial release. He then went about finding other, generally younger, collaborators to bring these tunes to life as a solo project. As befits the problematic gestation of his 11th solo title, this is thematically, conceptually and musically all over the place.
Even though it’s far from a triumph, there are highlights that sound like Wilson hasn’t lost his touch, even if he isn’t sure of his direction. Beach Boys Al Jardine, David Marks and Blondie Chaplin swing by for a faux “Sloop John B” retread named “Sail Away,” a slice of pure ballad pop in “The Right Time” and a sweet if overly sugary love song “Whatever Happened,” all capturing some of the old vibes if not the energy. Other non BB guests include Kacey Musgraves whose clear voice and chipper groove helps prop up the lighter than air “Guess You Had to Be There,” She & Him who don’t do much with the tropicalia-lite of “On the Island” and trumpet veteran Mark Isham on the snoozy instrumental “Half Moon Bay.”
The disc comes in a regular 13 track and deluxe edition, the latter adding three more songs that are arguably some of the better selections. It adds up to a pretty good half album but a far weaker one at almost an hour. Wilson is trying hard, remains in remarkably good voice and not surprisingly the vocal arrangements are what keep the disc from sinking beneath its own slick production, inconsistent songwriting and choppy pacing.
Existing Wilson fans will find this an enjoyable enough diversion, but even they will have to admit, it’s a little flimsy and simply not up to the high water mark Wilson has set for himself.