Now that about half Brian’s new album has become available to listen to in one form or another, my very preliminary thoughts on what we’ve heard.
Note that my opinions on Brian Wilson tracks change a LOT in the first year or so after I hear them, and also that this is based on lossy streams of one kind or another. This is after only hearing these songs once or twice, and I’ll be posting a proper review when I get a CD copy in a week and am able to properly listen to the whole album, in order, on headphones, a few times. This is just my initial opinion.
The Right Time has some nice harmonies, but a dull AOR instrumental arrangement. A gorgeous lead vocal from Al is marred a little by the autotune, and there’s no real song there as such, but it’s a bit of a grower.
Saturday Night on Hollywood Boulevard sounds like it comes from the soundtrack of a bad 80s family adventure film starring Michael J Fox or someone. If you’d told me this was Huey Lewis & The News’ new single I’d believe you. Given that Brian’s not on it vocally very much, I’d honestly not have guessed it was a Brian song.
Runaway Dancer sounds like a Scissor Sisters B-side. Which is brave, coming from Brian, but not really something I’m interested in listening to a lot.
Our Special Love has some lovely harmonies, but the song’s unmemorable — I’ve heard it half a dozen times and couldn’t remember it to write this (I had to put it on again just to check what it sounded like). I don’t like Hollens’ voice at all on his lead sections, and Brian’s voice on the “Our special love” section is autotuned to death. I’m also not a fan of beatboxing.
The Last Song This one’s very nice, and sounds much more “Brian” and less “Joe Thomas” in its production than some of the others. It reminds me of Pacific Coast Highway from That’s Why God Made The Radio or Midnight’s Another Day from That Lucky Old Sun, both of which were very much growers. The strings also sound like Paul Mertens’ arranging, which has been a feature I’ve liked a lot on Brian’s solo work over the last decade or so (he has a fairly unique style of string arrangement which reminds me of Bartok by way of Van Dyke Parks). I’m not sure if the song is as strong as the production, but this is by *far* the best arrangement, and the one that sounds best to my ears.
On The Island is another favourite. A perfect Jobim pastiche, with Zooey Deschanel sounding quite a bit like Peggy Lee. A trifle, but a fun one, and the most natural sounding vocals on anything we’ve heard so far.
Sail Away isn’t the song that Brian did with Van Dyke Parks in 1995, and nor is it a cover version of the Randy Newman song from one of Brian’s favourite albums. Which is a shame, as both those Sail Aways are better than this one. Which isn’t to say it’s bad as such, and it’s always good to hear Blondie Chaplin and Al Jardine back with Brian, but this has the sort of slightly overblown feel of the Beaks Of Eagles section of California Saga, or the Monterey bit of Al’s Looking Down The Coast, and the musical quotes from Sloop John B just highlight how much better that song was than this one.
I’m Feeling Sad is a nice track. A nice, bouncy, piece of sunshine pop, very Paul Williams or Burt Bacharach.
Guess You Had To Be There is a pleasant, if insubstantial, track. Kacey Musgraves’ vocals are processed to death, unfortunately, but the song is very catchy.
So after having heard about half the tracks, about half of what we’ve heard is at least pretty good. Given that the stuff that was let out first is far worse (to my ears) than the stuff we’ve heard more recently, I’m guessing the ratio of good to rubbish will only improve on the actual album itself. I’m cautiously optimistic about this one.
I think one of the “problems” (if you want to call it a problem) when Brian fine tunes his productions, like these productions are fine-tuned, is that he irons out the quirks in his music. What’s gained in perfection is lost in personality. Brian’s solo stuff would probably be a lot more interesting if he was forced to record it all quickly, and he himself was forced to play on the songs. Oh well. Given how he relies on top session players in the studio and he has as much time as he wants, I doubt he’ll ever record another “Love You” or “Smiley Smile” album.