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Monday, June 1, 2015

Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made For These Times

BRIAN WILSON: I JUST WASN'T MADE FOR THESE TIMES (1995)

1) Meant For You; 2) This Whole World; 3) Caroline, No; 4) Let The Wind Blow; 5) Love And Mercy; 6) Do It Again; 7) The Warmth Of The Sun; 8) Wonderful; 9) Still I Dream Of It; 10) Melt Away; 11) 'Til I Die.

This is certainly not an essential release, but it has a bit of historical importance. The last really rough period in Brian's wobbly life occurred on the brink of the Eighties and the Nineties, as his risky relationship with Eugene Landy was finally cracked, with a little help from brother Carl and other members of the family, and he finally found himself in a position where he was no longer manipulated or abused by anybody — probably for the first time in his life, or maybe for the second, if we count the brief period in between breaking up with his father and succumbing to insanity, during which he made Pet Sounds. Almost as if to celebrate that newly-found freedom, he teamed up with Don Was for a biodocumentary and a soundtrack album to the documentary, and I guess the only better song title for this than ʽI Just Wasn't Made For These Timesʼ would have been ʽHang On To Your Egoʼ, but nobody would get it except for the bootlegging crowd at the time, so they went ahead with the obvious.

Anyway, since (I guess) they probably could not use the original material without the consent of Capitol, they simply went ahead and re-recorded all the songs. Surprisingly, the re-recordings are not at all crappy! I guess all these guys were just so happy to work with the legendary Mr. Wilson that they honestly gave it their best, and since Brian, for the first time in ages, supervised all the production himself, the recordings sound warm and natural, and the extra touches are all reason­able — like, for instance, David McMurray's extended flute solo on ʽCaroline, Noʼ: there were lots of flutes on the original, but they were sort of «implied», buried in the mix, whereas here the instrument is finally given a chance to surge, and it does that quite nicely.

The songs, as you can imagine, are usually the personal-intimate ones, mostly from the Pet Sounds and Smile shelves, although the old boy does let himself be carried away on a sunny wave with ʽDo It Againʼ, and reaches as far back into his catalog as ʽThe Warmth Of The Sunʼ (although, frankly speaking, the harmonies on that song make it an early, but straightforward, precursor to the «teen symphony» era of the Beach Boys). The really good news, though, is that there are new versions of ʽLove And Mercyʼ and ʽMelt Awayʼ here, completely free of the stiff excesses of Eighties' production, and they are wonderfuller than wonderful — with normal drum­ming, acoustic guitars, pianos, unimpeded vocals, whatever. It might have been a good idea to just re-record the entire Brian Wilson instead, but that, I guess, would have been incompatible with the general idea of the movie.

Vocal-wise, Brian is in significantly better form here than he was in 1988. If you want yourself a good contrast, listen to the ninth track — an unearthed demo from 1976 (the Love You era), with just Brian at his piano, somewhat spontaneously singing about whatever was going on at the time: "Time for supper now / Day's been hard and I'm so tired, I feel like eating now..." It's actually an embryo of what could have been a pretty good song (a nine-year-late answer to "woke up, fell out of bed" that Brian couldn't come up with back in 1967), and you can feel all the lo-fi pain of a con­fused and meaningless existence flowing out of the speakers, but after three and a half minutes of the man's 1976 sandpaper vocals you will be physiologically glad to be back (forward) in 1995. Maybe the voice has aged, yes, and forever shifted its timbre to something less angelic, but at least this is no longer the voice of a «half-person». And yes, maybe good health and self-confidence are bad for artistic purposes, but we've already had so much bad health and lack of confidence from Brian over the years that it is actually heartwarming to see him back in shape.

It is, however, respectable that he ends the album with ʽ'Til I Dieʼ — no matter how happy and uplifting the majority of the selections are, he still finishes things by reminding us, and himself, of simple mortality, with one of the best songs ever written about death (I'm not joking — I'm pretty sure the song works as a great pice of therapy for anyone who happens to be afraid of dying). Starting off with love (ʽThis Whole Worldʼ) and ending with quiet acceptance of the in­evitable is the way to go, and Don Was, along with his little playing team (including guitarist Waddy Wachtel and James Hutchinson on bass), did a fine job of guiding Brian through his own backstory. Again — nothing essential, but a good short summary of the man's greatness, and at the same time a nice opening of the next, perhaps not the greatest, but quite possibly the happiest stage in his life. 

2 comments:

  1. Actually, "Still I Dream of It" was finished and was intended for the "Adult Child" project. You can find a bootleg download of it. It's pretty good, if a little too heavily orchestrated.

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    1. It got a legitimate release on the 1993 box set.

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