Brian Wilson
That Lucky Old Sun
Capitol Records
4/5 Stars
By David Watnick
Daily Arts Writer

That Lucky Old Sun is not a cool album. It’s slick, campy, nostalgic and a tad too friendly. Of course, these attributes place it in at least moderate contrast with Wilson’s last proper effort, the 38-years-in-the-making Smile. That record, through a combination of vestigial psychedelia, juvenile lyrical schizophrenia and its own living legend, was almost hip. That Lucky Old Sun is not. But that doesn’t matter. Even if it was more superficially embarrassing than it actually is — that would’ve been possible, but not easy — a truly jaded ear would be required to ignore how plainly blissful of an album it is.

Broadway-esque arrangements and ultra hi-fi sound keep That Lucky Old Sun from being the quintessential California record that it was conceived as; no matter how determined the lyrics are to evoke vintage L.A., the record’s sheen makes it sound more like the product of spray-on fake tanner than authentic Venice Beach rays. But Brian Wilson has always been at his best when he utilizes the most ornate and sophisticated recording approach possible, and in doing so here with his standard arsenal of string, horns and bells, he has again constructed an unassuming symphony.

Within the squeaky-clean tracks, Wilson essentially merges the real California beach vibe of All Summer Long and the orchestral majesty of Pet Sounds for a contemporary update of The Beach Boys’ sound. In this vein, the pulsating low end of “Morning Beat” makes it the new “Do It Again,” and “Forever My Surfer Girl,” with rising tension pre-choruses, comes off as a remake of “Don’t Worry Baby.” Boisterous harmonies throughout should draw comparisons to “California Girls.”

Wilson proves himself beyond self-plagiarist or even relic status, however, and on two occasions he actually expands the hallowed grounds of his personal song hall-of-fame. The first new inductee is the show-tune duet “Good Kind of Love.” Though undeniably corny, the melody carried in its “Oh oh oh oh oh” choruses is a musical brain parasite if there’s ever been one. “Midnight’s Another Day,” meanwhile, is a hauntingly-melancholy piano ballad that could only emerge from the equally murky and joyous mind of Wilson.

Only occasional spoken word interludes with lyrics courtesy of enigmatic Smile wordsmith Van Dyke Parks distract from the continuously ear-sweet, unbroken song cycle. Still, they’re appropriately placed and not nearly as troubling as the outright bizarre spoken word Mount. Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale) EP Wilson attempted in 1973.

The fact of the matter is that Brian Wilson is 66 years old. He’s survived drugs, severe mental illness, crippling fear of everyday life, wildly mercurial obesity, an abusive father, an even more abusive therapist, jealous and conniving bandmates (I’m looking at you, Mike Love) and the ’80s. Through it all, his social relevance has waned accordingly. And it would be unfair to expect him to reverse that trend. But if one facet of Brian Wilson has endured, it is his gift for melody. Don’t play That Lucky Old Sun at your co-op’s next party; play it when you’re in private. Sing along, dance and be willfully embarrassed. Just don’t let anyone see you.

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