Shedding Light in the Darkness

Brian Wilson’s Back


I met Brian Wilson once in the late ‘80s backstage at a Honolulu concert. He’s a musical god, thus I was thrilled, but that was a moment in his “lost years” and he wasn’t exactly coherent. The revered pop genius has a new album out, “No Pier Pressure,” that should delight Beach Boys fans around the world. Some critics have given it rather lukewarm reviews, but does anyone really imagine “Pet Sounds” or “Smile” in 2015?
And sure there’s no “Good Vibrations” or “Surf’s Up,” and naturally he’s lost those youthful vocal highs, but no one expects his peers edging into their 70s like Paul McCartney or Paul Simon to match their earlier triumphs.
With 18 tracks on the deluxe version to explore let’s dive in.
The lovely, brief opening track “This Beautiful Day” sets the album’s nostalgic tone with its wistful sounding cello and rising harmonies as he sings about yearning for the past.
Wilson expressed a desire in interviews to work with some younger artists and track two, “Runaway Dancer,” featuring Sebu Simonian (of the synthpop band Capital Cities) sounds like nothing he’s done before. It’s his version of catchy dance-pop!
The dreamy “What Ever Happened” lands us back in solid Beach Boys territory WITH former BB’s Al Jardine and David Marks on board to create those classic, majestic harmonies.
Another surprise follows with the loungey Samba lilt of “On the Island,” featuring She & Him’s Zooey Deschanel handling lead vocals.
Mark Isham guests on trumpet, elevating one of the album’s loveliest tracks, “Half Moon Bay,” with his mellow soloing around Wilson’s wordless harmonies, that recalls “Our Prayer.”
Even a fairly weak track like “Our Special Love” (featuring Peter Hollens) benefits from Wilson’s genius for crafting complex vocal arrangements.
And then we hear more joyful gems like “The Right Time,” with Al Jardine and David Marks, that bear all the classic, sunny BB hallmarks, and could have brightened any of their great albums.
As to the rest, former BB Blondie Chaplin joins Al Jardine for another highlight, “Sail Away.” Chaplin sang lead on the band’s classic “Sail On Sailor” and was an important contributor to their terrific albums “Holland” and “Carl & The Passions – So Tough.”
Fun’s Nate Ruess pops up to sing lead on “Saturday Night,” which sounds oddly like it could have fit an early America album.
And then there’s the beautiful, elegiac “The Last Song,” which supposedly was meant as a Lana Del Rey duet. There are reports that Wilson wrote the song about his sadness over the Beach Boys’ last breakup.
It’s a marvelous way to end with its lush orchestral backing, stately piano, dramatic harmony vocals and Wilson’s mournful closing line – “there’s never enough time for those that you love.”

Brian Wilson will be touring the U.S. (with Rodriguez opening) this Summer and the U.K. (joined by America) this Fall in support of “No Pier Pressure.” He will be joined by Al Jardine and and Blondie Chaplin.


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