Fear as much as excitement has chaperoned Brian Wilson’s ever more staccato bursts of solo releases. That is a fear of treacle coated, muzak stamped cringfests, (much of 1998’s Imagination) cross referenced with a lack of focus not seen since Wilson’s living hell as a marrowless bone Mike Love and Eugene Landy snarled over, much to the astonishment of the California judiciary. Having experienced overwhelming misses at the expense of the hits, the question rightly remains, has Brian Wilson room left for another ace up his sleeve?
With providence sweetly grinning upon the ironic pensioner, That Lucky Old Sun is every part the miraculous triumph that Wilson’s long estranged Smile finally shaped itself into being. Van Dyke Parks’ Jiminy Cricket-esque muse thumps its way through the 17 or so tracks. Where Parks’ writing presence does not register, something alchemic instead wanders through Wilson’s external and inner narratives, renewing the bloodstream as his charismatic brothers and friends did in his brief early 70s renaissance (for Good Kind Of Love, one recalls the oeuvre of 1970’s Sunflower). No longer content to record by virtue of the fact that he can, the incontinence and lethargy of his elevator music fixations are disintegrated by a resounding zeitgeist present on Midnight’s Another Day, with the compulsory nostalgia Forever My Surfer Girl actually in the best possible taste; something just not possible in the easy listening dungeons where Imagination or even the marginally more disciplined Getting In Over My Head were mixed.
Allegedly an assertive quasi-slave driver in his mid 1960s studio splendour, (bootleg sessions unearth Brian’s frantic energy and mildly pedantic attention to every single note), the same hallmark of quality circa 2008 owes as much to the supporting musicians’ faith in Wilson as vice versa. Goin’ Home would be another futile frontline casualty on pretty much all of Wilson’s post 1988 solo albums, but with Jeffrey Foskett et al at the very core of the engine, it recreates the return to basics of the 1969 Beach Boys, paving the way for a possible number 1 hit single for reasons more than morbid fascination or pity for a supposedly dethroned icon.
Indeed, one cannot presume that Brian’s musical manifesto is the sole purpose of this album. The supporting cast have proved to be every bit as vital as Dr. Landy, minus the corporate snags that soured the latter days of a relationship which went beyond ethical doctor/patient boundaries. Gently raising Brian back into the aether, he grasps the reigns with aplomb on the repeated visits to the title track, a favourite of Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash, not that Wilson ever needed the self-referential all American razzmatazz to elevate himself above the plethora of lawyers, lackies, and bummed out cockroaches, at least no-one has told him so until now. That Lucky Old Sun not only nods its head to the carefree 1960s and troubled 1970s, it connects with a narrative outside of its own context, where Smile simultaniously returns to 1967 as Brian Wilson and his messianic legacy radiates in present time. At his pace, with total agency almost certainly his, only now can the word inspired be used without nervous undertones of pity and obligation.