Another Opinion I’m Sick Of

And one I’ve seen again today: “the wife of $male rock star is a controlling harpy bitch and is wrecking his music. She just doesn’t understand him like I do! *sniff*”

Yoko Ono is obviously the most prominent example of this, but it happens *all the time*. Just off the top of my head:

Brian Wilson’s wife Melinda gets attacked on a regular basis by people saying she controls him and is using him — this despite the fact that Wilson has been obviously happier, more content, more mentally well, and more productive in the last twenty years than at any time in the thirty before that. Most of the attackers don’t seem to know anything about her other than that she may have had plastic surgery, she has a lot of pet dogs, and all the Wilsons’ adopted children have names starting with D. This seems to be enough to make her history’s greatest monster.

Rumours went round in the Monkees fandom before Davy Jones died that his wife was evil and controlling. In particular, she was called an egomaniac for “insisting” on touring with the band and dancing with them. She was definitely going to spoil the show.
In fact she was a professional dancer before she met Davy, and a good one. She appeared on stage for two songs — Can You Dig It, and Daddy’s Song — and in both of them replicated dances that were performed to those songs in the film in which they appeared. She added a lot to the show, which was the most critically acclaimed tour the band had ever done to that point.

Frank Zappa’s widow, Gail, gets this treatment a lot both from his fans and his ex-bandmates. The Zappa tribute band The Muffin Men released their first original track a couple of years ago — it was called Cold Winter Gale. Ho ho ho.

And today, Mike Love has just announced that his bass player Randell Kirsch will be replaced by Brian Eichenberger, who’s played with Brian Wilson and the Four Freshment. Immediately all over Beach Boys fandom come posts saying that the line-up change in Mike’s band is some sinister move on the part of Jacqueline Love, who apparently has some sort of evil control over the touring band and toys with them at her whim, hiring and firing with no regard for anything other than her evil evilness.
If so, given that every single line-up change in the band up to this point since Mike & Bruce first started touring as The Beach Boys in 1998 has been a positive one that’s made the band sound better, I can only say hooray for Jacqueline Love’s caprice. Over the last eighteen years the touring band have gone from being a sloppy, out-of-tune, corner-cutting mess to being a fantastic live act with the best drummer and the best vocal harmonies that you could imagine.

[EDIT — just to clarify, I think Randell’s a great singer, a very good bass player, and in the brief interactions I’ve had with him a very nice person. I don’t think him leaving Mike’s band would be a good thing for the band, and I hope it was his decision rather than him being fired. I’m talking here about a pattern, not that individual instance.]

I’m sure you can all think of your own examples — Courtney Love, both Paul McCartney’s first two wives, and on and on. This is the absolute normal, standard story told about any woman who dares to want to be involved, however peripherally, with her husband’s actual life if he’s a musician. It’s vile and it needs to stop.

Opinions I Am Sick Of: A Short List

“I don’t like $votingsystem, because it makes $party more likely to win.”
Every voting system has plus and minus points, but they should be evaluated on how democratic they are, not on which party, if any, they favour. If you’re going to do the latter, you might as well just advocate a dictatorship, since that’s what you really want.

“The left-wing ex-SDP part of the Lib Dems should split away from the right-wing ex-Liberal Party part”
Anyone who says this doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about, in many, many, different ways.

“There are no security problems with electronic voting. I know this because I have thought for a whole ten seconds about it”

“If you think Brian Wilson’s new album has autotune on it, it’s because you have a secret agenda to do down Brian and you’re working for Mike Love”

“I don’t like AV because I don’t like party list systems”

Most of these can basically be summed up as “I’m going to loudly and confidently express an opinion despite having never investigated the facts and having no interest in doing so.”

Highlights of the Lib Dem Manifesto

I’ve had a look through the Lib Dem manifesto today, because of course I have. It’s long — something like three times as long as the larger parties’ — and full of detail (as someone — I’m afraid I can’t remember who — pointed out on Twitter, only the Lib Dems and the Greens have much in the way of detail in their manifestos, and this may be to do with the fact that they’re the only large parties whose policies are developed by the membership, so they *have* a lot of policy).

Most of the manifesto is, frankly, dull as ditchwater. A lot of it’s the same managerialist platitudes you’ll get in any manifesto, just with additional costings. EVERY party says they’ll protect the environment, cut crime, protect the NHS, and stroke puppies. So I’ve gone through and found the stuff that seems like it’s worth commenting on — mostly positively, but occasionally negatively. The stuff that seems distinctively liberal, or disappointingly not, not the rest. I’m also only looking here at stuff I have a clue about.

Liberal Democrats remain committed to introducing
Land Value Tax (LVT), which would replace Business Rates in
the longer term and could enable the reduction or abolition of
other taxes.

LVT is one of those ideas that Lib Dems seem to love, and that no-one else ever talks about. When I first heard about it, I thought “that makes so much sense, there *must* be a catch!”, but no-one’s ever pointed one out to me (which is not to say there isn’t one).

a new legally binding target to bring net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050

Possibly too little too late, but *something* like this needs to be done…

As a major global economy, we must promote open markets and
free trade, both within the European Union and beyond. Only as
a full member of a reformed European Union can we be certain
Britain’s businesses will have access to markets in Europe and
beyond.
Liberal Democrats believe we should welcome talented people
from abroad, encourage visitors and tourists who contribute
enormously to our economic growth, and give sanctuary to refugees
fleeing persecution. Immigration procedures must be robust and fair,
and the UK must remain open to visitors who boost our economy,
and migrant workers who play a vital role in business and public
services.

A bit of a difference from mugs saying “controls on immigration”…

Protect the independence of the BBC while ensuring the Licence Fee does not rise faster than inflation, maintain Channel
4 in public ownership and protect the funding and editorial independence of Welsh language broadcasters

Sounds good, although it’s basically “we’ll leave this alone”.

Raise the Personal Allowance to at least £12,500, cutting your taxes by around £400 more

Nice idea in theory, not a priority I’m particularly keen on in the current economic climate.

Legislate to make the ‘triple lock’ permanent, guaranteeing decent pensions rises each year

Not keen on this either — the triple lock as a temporary measure is, and has been, a good thing. But making it permanent is to guarantee that an ever-increasing proportion of spending will go to pensions, regardless of need. I accept that I’m in a minority on this one though.

Extend free childcare to all two-year olds, and to the children of working families from the end of paid parental leave.

Expand Shared Parental Leave with a ‘use it or lose it’ month for fathers, and introduce a right to paid leave for carers

Both entirely good ideas.

Complete the introduction of Universal Credit (UC), so people are always better off in work.

In principle, UC is a very good idea. In practice, the implementation has been a complete balls-up so far. If the reforms that are talked about make it work better, then it might be a good thing. We’ll see.

Reductions in benefits may not always be the best
way to improve claimants’ compliance: those with chaotic lives
might be more successful in finding a job if they were directed to
targeted support with their problems. We will ensure there are no
league tables or targets for sanctions issued by Jobcentres and
introduce a ‘yellow card’ warning so people are only sanctioned if
they deliberately and repeatedly break the rules.

Nowhere near what I’d like, but a definite massive improvement on the current system.

Liberal Democrats will protect young people’s entitlements to the welfare safety net, while getting them the help they need to get their first job.

In other words, “bollocks to this idea of stopping benefits for under-25s that both Labour and the Tories have”

Introduce a 1% cap on the uprating of working-age benefits until the budget is balanced in 2017/18, after which they will rise with
inflation once again. Disability and parental leave benefits will be
exempt from this temporary cap.

I really, *really* don’t like the below-inflation benefits rise thing, when we’re promising to increase pensions at above inflation. On the other hand, there’s a definite term limit on this. Not something I support, but could be worse.

Withdraw eligibility for the Winter Fuel Payment and free
TV Licence from pensioners who pay tax at the higher rate
(40%). We will retain the free bus pass for all pensioners.

Sounds good to me. I’m right on the 40% tax rate border, and I manage to support two people, pay a mortgage, spend quite a lot of money on leisure pursuits, and put a reasonable amount away in savings every month. Anyone with more income than me (and who will be unlikely to still be making mortgage payments) doesn’t need free stuff paid for by people who are on average worse-off than them. (The bus pass is worth keeping because it encourages public transport use, which is a good thing in itself).

Ensure swift implementation of the new rules requiring companies with more than 250 employees to publish details of the different pay levels of men and women in their organisation. We will build on this platform and, by 2020, extend transparency requirements to include publishing the number of people paid less than the Living Wage and the ratio between top and median pay. We will also consult on
requirements for companies to conduct and publish a full equality pay review, and to consult staff on executive pay.

Ask the Low Pay Commission to look at ways of raising the National Minimum Wage, without damaging employment opportunities. We will improve enforcement action and clamp down on abuses by employers seeking to avoid paying the minimum wage by reviewing practices such as unpaid internships.

Establish an independent review to consult on how to set a fair Living Wage across all sectors. We will pay this Living Wage in all central government departments and their agencies from April 2016, and encourage other public sector employers to do likewise.

Improve the enforcement of employment rights, reviewing Employment Tribunal fees to ensure they are not a barrier. We will ensure employers cannot avoid giving their staff rights or paying the minimum wage by wrongly classifying them as workers or self-employed.

All very good stuff.

Conduct a review of the Work Capability Assessment and
Personal Independence Payment assessments to ensure they are fair, accurate and timely and evaluate the merits of a public sector provider.

Simplify and streamline back-to-work support for people with
disabilities, mental or physical health problems. We will aim for
the goal of one assessment and one budget for disabled and sick
people to give them more choice and control.

This is stuff that desperately needs doing.

Reform the policy to remove the spare room subsidy. Existing
social tenants will not be subject to any housing benefit
reduction until they have been offered reasonable alternative
accommodation. We will ensure tenants who need an extra bedroom for genuine medical reasons are entitled to one in any assessment of their Housing Benefit needs, and those whose homes are substantially adapted do not have their Housing Benefit reduced.

In other words, “we’re not going to *say* we’re scrapping the ‘Bedroom Tax’, we’re just going to make sure it doesn’t actually apply to anyone”.

To ensure all children learn about a wide range of religious and nonreligious world views, religious education will be included in the core curriculum; however we will give schools the freedom to set policy on whether to hold acts of collective worship, while ensuring any such acts are strictly optional.

Getting rid of the statutory requirement for worship in schools is a *big* deal, and a great thing.

We are the only party with a credible plan to deliver the extra £8 billion NHS leaders know our health service in England needs by 2020, with the appropriate boost to funding for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too

Labour will only promise about a third of this. The Tories until last week were the same, and then suddenly said they’d put in the extra eight billion too, but without saying where they’d get it from.

That is why we will increase mental health spending in England’s NHS by £500m a year by 2016/17 – half of which we delivered in this year’s Budget – and provide the cash for similar investments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Desperately needed. There’s a lot of good wonkish mental health stuff in there.

Liberal Democrats are committed to repealing any parts of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 which make NHS services vulnerable to forced privatisation through international agreements on free markets in goods and services. We will end the role of the Competition and Markets Authority in health, making it clear that the needs of patients, fairness and access always come ahead of competition, and that good local NHS services do not have to be put out to tender. After determined negotiations, we now have a clear guarantee from the EU that member states’ rights to provide public services directly and not open them up to competition are explicitly enshrined in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and we will ensure this remains the case for TTIP and any future trade agreements.

Clearly good.

Restrict the marketing of junk food to children, including restricting TV advertising before the 9pm watershed

Harumph.

Lots of environment stuff which sounds very nice but which I have no basis to evaluate the effectiveness of

Yay the environment. I sound dismissive, but this is actually probably the most important stuff in the manifesto in the very long term. I just have no reasonable way to evaluate any of it, other than “that sounds good”.

we have set an ambitious target of increasing the rate of house building to 300,000 a year.

DESPERATELY needed.

Enable Local Authorities to…levy up to 200% Council Tax on second homes where they judge this to be appropriate.

Sounds fair to me.

Challenge gender stereotyping and early sexualisation, working with schools to promote positive body image and widespread understanding of sexual consent law, and break down outdated perceptions of gender appropriateness of particular academic subjects

Nice.

Give legal rights and obligations to cohabiting couples in the event of relationship breakdown or one partner dying without a will.

Permit humanist weddings and opposite sex civil partnerships, and liberalise the rules about the location, timing and content of wedding ceremonies.

Support schools to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination, and to establish a tolerant and inclusive environment for all their pupils. We will remove schools’ exemption from the bar on harassment in these areas while protecting the right to teach about religious doctrine.

Promote international recognition of same sex marriages and civil partnerships as part of a comprehensive International LGBT Rights Strategy that supports the cause of decriminalising homosexuality in other countries.

Seek to pardon all those with historic convictions for consensual homosexual activity between adults.

Enhance the experience of all football fans by making homophobic chanting a criminal offence, like racist chanting.

Ask the Advisory Committee on Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs periodically to review rules around men who have sex with men donating blood to consider what restrictions remain necessary

All good stuff, apart from the football chant one, which I’m in two minds about, because I don’t like laws against speech but I also don’t like tens of thousands of people chanting homophobic hate speech. The rest is all great, thanks to the good work of LGBT+ Lib Dems.

(There’s a lot of stuff about racial and religious discrimination, but I’m not qualified to see if those policies are as good, as it’s not an area I know much about.)

Formally recognise British Sign Language as an official language of the United Kingdom.

About time.

Prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion in the provision of public services.

Move to ‘name blank’ recruitment wherever possible in the public sector.

Introduce statutory public interest defences for exceptional cases where journalists may need to break the law (such as RIPA, the 2010 Bribery Act, and the 1998 Computer Misuse Act) to expose
corruption or other criminal acts.

Ensure judicial authorisation is required for the acquisition of communications data which might reveal journalists’ sources or other privileged communications, for any of the purposes allowed under RIPA; and allow journalists the opportunity to address the court before authorisation is granted, where this would not jeopardise the investigation.

Some much needed protection for journalists here.

To promote the independence of the media from political influence we will remove Ministers from any role in appointments to the BBC Trust or the Board of Ofcom.
To guarantee press freedom, we will pass a British ‘First Amendment’ law, to require the authorities and the courts to have regard to the importance of a free media in a democratic society.

Both obvious Good Things.

And a list of things from the freedoms and digital rights sections, without my comment because they’re obviously good (though they don’t go as far as I would — but then pretty much *no-one* would go as far as me):

Establish in legislation that the police and intelligence agencies should not obtain data on UK residents from foreign governments that it would not be legal to obtain in the UK under UK law.

Back a full judicial enquiry into complicity in torture if the current investigation by the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee investigation fails to get to truth.

End indefinite detention for immigration purposes.

Introduce restrictions on the indefinite use of police bail.

Require judicial authorisation for the use of undercover police officers to infiltrate alleged criminal groups.

Identify practical alternatives to the use of closed material procedures within the justice system, including the provisions of the 2013 Justice and Security Act, with the aim of restoring the principle of open justice.

Tighten the regulation of CCTV, with more powers for the Surveillance Camera Commissioner.

Extend the rules governing storage of DNA and fingerprints by public authorities to include all biometric data – like facial images.

Protect free speech by ensuring insulting words, jokes, and non-intentional acts, are not treated as criminal, and that social media communications are not treated more harshly than other media.

Prevent heavy-handed policing of demonstrations by tightly regulating the use of ‘kettling’.

Ban high-frequency Mosquito devices which discriminate against young people.

Strengthen safeguards to prevent pre-emptive arrests and misuse of pre-charge bail conditions to restrict civil liberties and stifle peaceful protest.

End the Ministerial veto on release of information under the Freedom of Information Act

Enshrine the principle that everyone has the right to control their own personal data, and that everyone should be able to view, correct, and (where appropriate and proportionate) delete their personal data, wherever it is held.

Forbid any public body from collecting, storing or processing personal data without statutory authority, and require any such legislation to be regularly reviewed.

Give increased powers and resources for the Information Commissioner and introduce custodial sentences for egregious breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Ensure privacy is protected to the same extent in telecoms and online as in the offline world. Public authorities should only invade an individual’s privacy where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or where it is otherwise necessary and proportionate to do so in the public interest, and with appropriate oversight by the courts.

Uphold the right of individuals, businesses and public bodies to use strong encryption to protect their privacy and security online

The stuff on violence against women and sexual violence looks very good, especially:

Ensure teachers, social workers, police officers and health workers in areas where there is high prevalence of female genital mutilation or forced marriage are trained to help those at risk.

Require the teaching of sexual consent in schools as part of age-appropriate sex and relationships education.

These are hugely important areas, and currently not dealt with at all well.

We believe that a large prison population is a sign of failure to rehabilitate, not a sign of success. So our aim is to significantly reduce the prison population by using more effective alternative punishments and correcting offending behaviour.

It’s that our manifesto has sensible things like this — things that anyone who thinks for half a second would say are reasonable, but that go against the knee-jerk authoritarianism that’s been the norm in politics for as long as I’ve been paying attention to it — that convince me I’m in the right party.

Reform prisons so they become places of work, rehabilitation and learning, with offenders receiving an education and skills assessment within one week, starting a relevant course and programme of support within one month and able to complete courses on release

Yeah. Sensible, non-knee-jerk, policy.

Carry out an immediate review of civil Legal Aid, judicial review and court fees, in consultation with the judiciary, to ensure Legal Aid is available to all those who need it, that those of modest means can bring applications for judicial review of allegedly unlawful government action and that court and tribunal fees will not put justice beyond the reach of those who seek it. This will mean reversing any recent rises in up-front court fees that make justice unaffordable for many, and instead spreading the fee burden more fairly.

Translated “I can’t believe we let that idiot Grayling into Justice. We’d better undo the damage as quickly as possible”

Adopt the approach used in Portugal where those arrested for possession of drugs for personal use are diverted into treatment, education or civil penalties that do not attract a criminal record.

As a first step towards reforming the system, legislate to end the use of imprisonment for possession of drugs for personal use, diverting resources towards tackling organised drug crime instead.

Enable doctors to prescribe cannabis for medicinal use.

Put the Department of Health rather than the Home Office in charge of drug policy

The drugs policy doesn’t go nearly as far as I’d like, but again it’s such a relief to see it being talked about in ways that have anything at all to do with reality…

Introduce votes at age 16 for elections and referendums across the UK, and make it easier to register to vote in schools and
colleges.

Reform the House of Lords with a proper democratic mandate, starting from the proposals in the 2012 Bill.

Reform our voting systems for elections to local government and Westminster to ensure more proportional representation. We will introduce the Single Transferable Vote for local government elections in England and for electing MPs across the UK. We will reduce the number of MPs but only as part of the introduction of a reformed, fair, voting system

And this is the single biggest reason why I’m a Lib Dem. We NEED proper electoral reform. I was worried that while this remained policy, it would quietly be dropped from the manifesto, but it’s still there. Councils are mentioned before Parliament, presumably because they’ll be more likely to be delivered in a coalition, but we’re trying for both.

Building on the Wright Committee recommendations of 2009, and experiences of Coalition, we will conduct a full review of Parliamentary procedures, which should formally recognise individual political parties not just Government and Opposition

This is something that is VERY necessary if multi-party governments are to become the norm.

We will deliver Home Rule for Scotland by implementing the
Smith Commission proposals in full in the first session of the next
Parliament. We will continue to make the case for powers currently
held at Westminster and Holyrood to be transferred directly to local
government where appropriate.

Proper devolution and Home Rule good. There’s lots of specifics about Welsh Home Rule as well, with a lot more powers granted to the Welsh Assembly, but I don’t know what most of them are. Same for Northern Ireland.

In some areas of England there is an even greater appetite for powers, but not every part of the country wants to move at the same speed and there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. We will therefore introduce Devolution on Demand, enabling even greater devolution of powers from Westminster to Councils or groups of Councils working together – for example to a Cornish Assembly

Proper devolution and Home Rule good.

Some of the wording under “Working for Peace and Security” appears to take a Blairite “liberal interventionist” stance, as many Labour supporters have spent much of the day saying on Twitter. I’m not especially happy with that, but I still think that overall the policies in that section (things like reducing the number of nuclear weapons) are more good than bad.

On TTIP:

We will only support an agreement that upholds EU standards of consumer, employee and environmental protection, and allows us to determine how NHS services are provided.

I should certainly hope so!

(Most of the foreign policy stuff I’m not competent to comment on, like the environmental stuff; and like that, it’s probably more important than much of the rest).

Overall, much of the manifesto is sensible managerialism with which few people could disagree. There are also a couple of bits — but only a couple of bits — with which I very strongly disagree. But even though this is a manifesto designed to appeal to moderates who prize competence, rather than to radicals like myself, there’s plenty of good, strong, Liberalism in there.

Now we just have to get some good, strong, Liberal MPs elected to put as much of it as possible into practice.

New Novel Chapter Posted on Patreon

For my Patreons, the latest chapter in my untitled supernatural-historical-thriller has been posted. As mentioned before, I’ll be doing one chapter a week (mostly — I reserve the right to skip any weeks when the entire universe jumps on me, like last week) on Tuesdays until the novel’s completed, for Patreon subscribers only. The rest of you will have to wait until the book’s finished to read it (not necessarily a bad thing).
And remember, if donations reach $100 per month (currently they’re at $74) I’ll start doing audio versions of this blog.
Proper post tomorrow.

Flash Fiction: Opening Sentences

I didn’t take part in Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction thing last week because I was having the week from hell, but this week’s challenge was just to write an opening sentence. I came up with a few:

The journey between the walls of Ilyria and the gates of Bastandion is over five thousand miles, yet I had to make it on my own.
The baby wouldn’t stop screaming, so I ate him.
The day the robots came, I was playing baseball in the back garden with my kid sister.
It’s not every day you open the door to find your own future self knocking; in my case, it’s only on Wednesdays.
Thomas Edwards walked through his front door, closed it behind himself, and hung his head up on the hanger in the hall.
The snakes were moving again.
If there was one thing he hated more than anything else, Rodrigo would reflect later, it was women who smoked.
It took Jane a moment to realise what was unusual about the letter, but then she noticed that the postmark was the next day.
Phil had read that there were three thousand ways to kill a man; he only knew four hundred himself, but he was still an apprentice.
It was on the ninetieth day of the rains that I noticed something odd.
“Miaow,” said the dog.

Brian Wilson: No Pier Pressure

No Pier Pressure is, in effect, the latest Beach Boys album. Much like Al Jardine’s 2010 “solo” album A Postcard From California, it features so many contributions from other Beach Boys, along with various guest stars, that thinking of it as a solo record makes no sense.

If anything, this sounds far more like the Beach Boys than the last Beach Boys album, 2012’s That’s Why God Made The Radio. That album had a harmony stack largely made up of multiple overdubbed Brian Wilsons and Jeff Fosketts, to which a thin additional layer of Beach Boys was applied. This time, Brian and Foskett (who dropped out of the very extended recording sessions half way through, but still appears on many tracks) are joined by Al Jardine, Jardine’s son Matt (who was the falsettist with the touring Beach Boys for much of the 90s, and who recently replaced Foskett in Wilson’s band), Blondie Chaplin, and Scott Bennett from Wilson’s band. While Chaplin and Al Jardine are only specifically credited on tracks where one of them takes a lead vocal, they’re in the vocal mix on several other tracks. (Two session singers are also credited, but without a track-by-track breakdown, it’s hard to know what their contributions were).

So while Mike Love and Bruce Johnston don’t appear (although David Marks, who is touring with them on their UK tour next month, adds some guitar on a couple of tracks), there are four actual Beach Boys on this album — as many as on, for example, Summer In Paradise. The fact that it says “Brian Wilson” on the front doesn’t really make a difference here. This is a Beach Boys album.

It feels very much like a sequel to That’s Why God Made The Radio, in large part because on both albums Brian Wilson collaborated with songwriter and producer Joe Thomas.

I’m getting into very sticky territory when I try to look at what, precisely, Thomas does and doesn’t add to the recordings. A lot of people seem to suggest that Brian Wilson’s well-known mental problems mean he’s no longer capable of creating music, and that he’s a puppet for his collaborators. This is horribly offensive, not only to Wilson himself (and to anyone else with those problems), but also to his collaborators, who in the case of his band members are uniformly decent, principled, people who are being accused of acting horribly unethically.

On the other hand, Wilson is, and always has been, a very collaboratively-minded artist, and his collaborators’ contributions can’t help but show up. When he works with Andy Paley, who produces retro-sounding powerpop heavily influenced by Phil Spector, you get work that sounds very retro, powerpoppy, and Spectoresque; while when he collaborates with his own band, who were put together for their ability to reproduce the records he made between 1965 and 67, you get work that sounds very like his work between 1965 and 67.

Joe Thomas is an “adult contemporary” producer and writer, and so when Brian Wilson collaborates with him, you get something “adult contemporary” — glossy, shiny, with too much processing on the vocals, smooth-sounding, and often veering into something that could be off the soundtrack of a bad 80s teen movie (Thomas often brings in Jim Peterik, writer of Eye Of The Tiger, as a collaborator).

Those faults are present in this album, but to a rather lesser extent than even on the last one. Here, for the most part, the arrangements seem to fit the songs well, and strike a decent balance between pastiching Wilson’s old style on the one side and generic AOR blandness on the other. I suspect, though we don’t have track-by-track credits available, that this is because Wilson’s band were used to provide a great deal of the instrumental backing, augmented by session players (notably on drums, where none of Wilson’s band play, and the parts are provided by people like Jim Keltner and Vinnie Colaiuta).

It’s obviously a fool’s errand to try to separate out who contributed what to the songs, especially as we know that some of the material dates back nearly twenty years while other parts were pulled together in the studio — but then, I am a fool. Wilson has said in interviews that Joe Thomas provided the chord sequences, Wilson wrote the melodies, and both provided lyrics, but this seems like the kind of oversimplification that he comes out with in interviews — we know a great deal about the writing process for the last album, and there, at least, it seemed very collaborative (for example Think About The Days was a piano instrumental by Thomas to which Wilson added vocal harmonies, while The Private Life Of Bill And Sue had a verse by Wilson and a chorus by Thomas).

My guess is that in the songwriting process Thomas provided most, but not all, of the lyrics, which are often in an 80s-AOR mode that’s completely alien from Wilson’s normal preoccupations; that he shaped and structured Wilson’s ideas — the songs tend to be far more verse/chorus and repetitive than most of Wilson’s work (oddly, for a man who’s come up with some of the great choruses of all time, Wilson tends mostly to avoid them); and that he supervised the recording of, at the very least, the drum parts — there is more hi-hat work on the average track here than in the whole of Wilson’s work from 1961 through 1988 inclusive (Wilson doesn’t like hi-hats, but they’re skittering all over this album). I would also blame him for the overuse of processing on the vocals, which is horribly unpleasant to my ears on some tracks — but at the same time, I suspect he probably should get at least some of the credit for getting good vocal takes out of Wilson, who is not the most consistent vocalist in the world, but sounds better here than he has in years.

But having said that, Brian Wilson’s name is on the album, and he has to take the final credit or blame. Too many fans either claim Brian is incapable of doing anything and is the puppet of other musicians on one hand, or on the other think that he would be producing another Pet Sounds every three minutes were it not for the terrible collaborators sullying his perfect genius. Neither is the case, as far as I’m aware.

So, in this review from this point on, I’ll be treating Wilson as the auteur — relating things to his other work and in the context of his career. That’s not meant to take credit away from Thomas, but I only know Thomas’ work with Wilson anyway, and have no idea about how this album fits into Thomas’ general body of work, which includes live albums by Kenny Chesney, Bon Jovi, and Stevie Nicks, and studio work with Peter Cetera and Toby Keith.

No Pier Pressure comes in three different versions — a 13-track standard edition, a 16-track “deluxe”, and an 18-track extra-deluxe one that has two bonus tracks (a 2005 recording of Love And Mercy and a 1975 recording of In The Back Of My Mind). Amazon have still not got round to shipping my pre-ordered copy of the 18-track version, so this review is based on the 16-track version, which they have supplied as MP3s.

(All songs are by Brian Wilson and Joe Thomas unless stated otherwise).

This Beautiful Day is a promising opener. A simple, repetitive, song fragment (less than ninety seconds long), it starts with forty seconds of Brian singing solo over piano chords, in about the most natural voice he’ll be in all album (his voice clearly cracks on the line “hold on to this feeling”), before turning into wordless vocals, while Paul Mertens’ string arrangement restates the melody of Summer’s Gone, the last song from the last album, while a trumpet plays answering phrases, before ending on a percolating synth.
There’s not much song there, but it sets up a lovely atmosphere. Most of the credit there must go to Mertens, who has been a secret weapon on all Wilson’s music for the last decade or so. He’s often (rightly) criticised for his sax playing being too loungey, but his string arrangements, with their vague hints of Bartok and vaguely Eastern European feel, and unflinching spareness, have been an element that was, really, missing from Wilson’s work for the first forty years. His arrangements throughout this album, as always, are exemplary.
Lyrically, meanwhile, this sets up one of the big themes of the album — trying to hold on to something slipping away, whether that be youth, life, love, or the Beach Boys’ temporary reunion.

Runaway Dancer is the polar opposite. Featuring someone called Sebu, who is apparently a member of Capital Cities (a young persons’ skiffle group of some notoriety), who also co-wrote with Wilson and Thomas, musically this poor attempt at mid-tempo disco sounds like a Scissor Sisters B-side, but with added lounge sax. Lyrically, meanwhile, it sets up the *other* kind of lyric we get on this album — the string of meaningless lines that sound vaguely like the kind of thing that 80s MOR acts thought was cool (“Yeah, she’s been the talk of the town/She’s walking round everywhere, looking for an answer/Someone caught her fooling around/Acting like she don’t care, runaway dancer”). It’s almost three times as long as the previous track, and has about a third of the musical interest, just hammering on its tedious chorus incessantly.

Whatever Happened is a return to the sound of the first track, and a massive improvement. The chorus is a little too bombastic for my liking, but this is a very good attempt at making Pet Sounds-esque music. It also introduces a motif we’ll be seeing a lot — a plucked, reverbed, trebly, bass playing a descending melody. I’m sure Brian’s used this precise sound somewhere before, but the only example I can think of right now is that the melody is the same as the “doo doo” backing vocals at the end of the chorus to The Night Was So Young.
But what really makes this track worthwhile is the layering of vocal harmonies. Al Jardine doubles Brian at times and counters him at others, and the massed backing vocals sound like the Beach Boys, for the first time on a record since at least 1996’s Stars & Stripes album.
The track doesn’t break new ground, and is consciously looking back to Brian’s glory days, but within the confines of what it’s trying to do it does it well.

On The Island features She & Him, with the lead vocal being by Zooey Deschanel, and is absolutely lovely. It’s a Jobim pastiche, and a very good one, and Deschanel sounds wonderful, almost like Peggy Lee. Some of the lyrics seem to be very Brian in their unnecessary details — specifying that the TV they bought is a colour one, for example — and while there’s nothing very clever about the music, it’s catchy as hell and pretty. The only downside is that Brian’s “on the island” harmony line seems to have been cut and pasted over and over, rather than sung every time, which means that on the very last repetition, where he sings “’cause on the island”, there’s a jarring edit after “’cause”. Other than that I can’t find fault with this.

Half Moon Bay, featuring Mark Isham on trumpet, is a near-instrumental, just with wordless backing vocals, very much in the exotica/Jack Nitzsche style of previous instrumentals like Diamond Head or Let’s Go Away For A While. It’s long on mood, but short on actual melody, but it does set that mood very well. It also features a variant on that bass motif again. It’s about a minute too long for my tastes, but very pleasant.

Our Special Love is, frankly, horrible. Apparently this started as a Tommy James & The Shondells pastiche, until Wilson decided he hated the instrumental track, so instead the track was given to YouTube star Peter Hollens to turn into an a capella track. The opening and closing sections, featuring layers of Wilson, Foskett, Chaplin and the Jardines, are pleasant enough, if uninspired, but then Hollens comes in with his beatboxing and lead vocals, and it starts to sound like Title Of The Song, Davinci’s Notebook’s parody of bad boy band songs, but with more beatboxing. Beatboxing, for those who don’t know, is someone making stupid “tsst” noises over and over, so if you listen with headphones it’s like having someone spit down your ear.

The Right Time, on which Al Jardine sings lead, is essentially a rewrite of the earlier Wilson/Thomas song Lay Down Burden, with a little of Night Time thrown in. An underwritten verse leads to an over-repeated chorus, and we’re back to gibberish lyrics, but the track is inoffensive enough, and Jardine does a great vocal, although the autotune is a bit ham-handedly applied here (most noticeably on the word “never” in the first verse).

Guess You Had To Be There, featuring Kacey Musgraves on lead vocals, is a bouncy country-swing-sunshine-pop song in the vein of California Girls or California Saga, with some nice banjo, presumably by Probyn Gregory (the banjo isn’t credited on the album). Musgraves and someone called Andrew Saldago co-write with Wilson and Thomas. Apart from a dull rawk guitar solo and too much processing on Musgraves’ vocals, this is very pleasant — simple, but one of the catchier things on the record.

Don’t Worry, one of the songs that only appears on the deluxe version of the album, has been getting a huge amount of criticism, largely because of the use of synth horns. In fact, as a genre exercise in late-70s disco rock it’s much better than Runaway Dancer. The tiny nods to Don’t Worry Baby don’t spoil it, and Brian’s in very good voice. Inessential, but surprisingly fun.

Somewhere Quiet, another mid-album bonus track, is the 1965 Beach Boys instrumental Summer Means New Love, given new lyrics by Scott Bennett (one of the keyboard players and backing vocalists in Wilson’s band, and a frequent songwriting collaborator). Bennett’s a much better lyricist than either Wilson or Thomas, and while he’s hamstrung by having to write to a pre-existing melody not designed for vocals (thus leading to some odd scansion at points), he does an excellent job here, as does Al Jardine on the middle-eight vocal.
The original melody was already slightly old-fashioned fifty years ago, but with the addition of lyrics it becomes more classic than old-fashioned. While it’s patterned after 50s pop ballads, with its 6/8 time signature, you could imagine someone like Nat “King” Cole or Tony Bennett singing this, and it fitting right in with the great American songbook material.

I’m Feeling Sad is the last of the deluxe-only tracks, and is just lovely — an uptempo, bouncy, duet with Foskett, with slice-of-life lyrics that could have come off the Friends album, this is musically somewhere between Paul Williams or Burt Bacharach on one side and bands like the BMX Bandits on the other — a fragile, beautiful, piece of bouncy pop.

Tell Me Why is a return to the ersatz Pet Sounds of Whatever Happened, and again features a great vocal by Jardine on the middle eight, but is a blander song than that one — it’s the only song on the album that doesn’t have anything in it at all memorable. I’ve listened to the album a dozen or so times in the last week, and I couldn’t remember which one this was until it started playing, something I couldn’t say about any of the others. Too bludgeoning and heavy-handed for my tastes.

Sail Away, co-written by Wilson, Thomas, and AOR schlocksters Jim Peterik and Larry Millas (who co-wrote several titles on the last Beach Boys album), shares its title both with the title track of Wilson’s favourite Randy Newman album, and with a song Wilson performed on Van Dyke Parks’ Orange Crate Art album. However, this track has more in common with the similarly named track by Styx. This could be by any of those bands — Styx, Journey, Foreigner, Survivor, Toto — who only had one hit each in Britain but were apparently ubiquitous in the US thirty years ago. Personally, I loathe this style of music (and including the flute riff from Sloop John B just makes me think about how much better that record is), but a lot of other people seem to like this one.

One Kind Of Love, written by Wilson with Scott Bennett and without Thomas, is very much in the mould of their Southern California and Midnight’s Another Day. Like Somewhere Quiet, this has a melody that’s not very singable, but it’s one of the stronger songs on the album, and the breakdown where multiple Brians sing in counterpoint over just bass and a horn is lovely.

Saturday Night, written by Wilson and Thomas with Nate Reuss of the annoyingly-uncapitalised band fun, who sings lead, is another song straight out of 80s US radio — this time sounding like the kind of thing Kenny Loggins or Huey Lewis would write for a teen film starring Michael J Fox, right down to a line about “playing our music too loud”. There are some good arrangement touches — the banjo part (again presumably played by Probyn) is very pleasant — but this is uninspired, dull, hackwork.

The Last Song serves much the same purpose as Summer’s Gone did on the last album — a calculated attempt to tug at the heartstrings, with the Spector kitchen sink turned up to twelve (to mix several metaphors horribly) in an attempt to disguise the lack of song.

Overall, the album feels like the result of several different, conflicting, ambitions — to make something “adult contemporary”, to make something vaguely arty that sounds a bit like Pet Sounds, to make something that sounds like contemporary pop radio, and to just make another Brian Wilson album of nice songs. One could pull together an eight- to ten-track short album from this that would rank with anything Brian’s done in the last thirty years — but given that the bonus tracks are among the best things on the album, it’s unlikely that whoever made the final sequencing decisions would have made the right choices when putting one together.

As it is, we’ve got an album few people will love from beginning to end, but in this age of playlists I doubt it’ll be listened to that way all that often. Instead people will rip it to their MP3 collections and only listen to the good tracks (whichever they think those are) — and on that basis, rather than as a unified, whole, work, this is an album worth buying.

Linkblogging for 11/4/15

Now that things are more or less back to normal round here, and I don’t have about 500000 Redditors all saying “I think you’ll find…” at me (and incidentally, this blog was *also* found this week by the people at the small penis Reddit; the fact that those people were infinitely more secure in themselves says a lot about what really does and doesn’t cause insecurity) I can start posting again. There’ll be proper posts tomorrow and for the few days after, but for now you can have links.

Abigail Nussbaum on power, race, the Hugos, and Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Graph theory for kids

Autistic and queer: coming out on the spectrum

It’s Easter, and that means that it’s time for Cavalorn to knock yet more Eostre myths on their heads.

Andrew Rilstone on sequels, fairy tales, and Star Wars

Feminist Aspie gives an Autism Acceptance 101

James Graham on his ambivalence about the Lib Dems — I am a lot more positive about the party than James is, but I think for someone disillusioned by the party he’s very fair.

Alex Wilcock rewrites The Red Flag in light of Labour’s anti-immigrant mugs

Millennium on why Miliband shouldn’t be allowed to claim credit for Syria