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Monday, August 17, 2015

Brian Wilson: No Pier Pressure


1) This Beautiful Day; 2) Runaway Dancer; 3) Whatever Happened; 4) On The Island; 5) Half Moon Bay; 6) Our Special Love; 7) The Right Time; 8) Guess You Had To Be There; 9) Don't Worry; 10) Tell Me Why; 11) Sail Away; 12) Somewhere Quiet; 13) I'm Feeling Sad; 14) One Kind Of Love; 15) Saturday Night; 16) The Last Song.

I am sorry to say this, but here it comes: for the first time in his solo career, and, in fact, for the first time in his overall career — discounting those Beach Boys albums for which he was really not responsible — Brian Wilson has come out with a blatantly bad record. Not just «so-so», not «mediocre» — no, this here is something much worse: a dishonest album, which pretends to be a Brian Wilson piece of art in name, but has about as much real Brian Wilson in it as a surimi crab stick has real crab in it. Fake throughout, starting with the silly pun of the title: No Peer Pressure would imply that the album is 100% Brian, which it is not, and No Pier Pressure would imply... crap, I don't even know what it would imply. It's just a stupid pun.

Objective reason #1 for the miserability of this failure: Brian falls back on collaboration with Joe Thomas, the guy responsible for the bad production of Imagination, and, for some reason, also co-writes most of the songs with the guy. Additionally, joining the club of «old geezers embra­cing new faces», he brings in a swarm of musical guests — which wouldn't be much of a problem if it were the right kind of guests, like, say, Andrew Bird or the girl from Beach House, but Kacey Musgraves? Zooey Deschanel? Are you kidding me? Nate Ruess? I have no idea who that guy is, but I do know that he sounds like a boring version of Robin Gibb, and for that reason ʽSaturday Nightʼ sounds like bad late period Bee Gees. Rumor has it that Brian also wanted Lana del Rey, but that she backed out of the project at the last minute — not that her presence would have made this pile of shit any less artificial than it already is, but yeah, I'd like to have her here, just to drive in the last nail of proving my point.

There is not a single good song here, nowhere in sight. ʽThis Beautiful Dayʼ is a pretty enough piano-and-harmonies introduction, tastily adorned with cello and trombone, and it lures you in with a fake promise of the usual, if a little too predictable and derivative, baroque bliss. But that is it — everything that follows broadly falls into two categories: (a) crappy mush and (b) mushy crap (to make this judgement more precise, let us assume that mushy crap has steady danceable rhythm and crappy mush is more of the ballad variety).

Theoretically, I have nothing against Brian Wilson going techno — I have outlived that prejudice a long time ago, and if you genuinely believe your melody needs a good house beat, well, so be it. But ʽRunaway Dancerʼ is just a stupid sounding song — the singing guy has a stupid voice, the lyrics are stupid, the melody is stupid, and what exactly here is Brian Wilson, anyway? This is the kind of stuff you can get on any cheap contemporary dance music radio station. Is it merely to prove a point, that Grandpa can crank it up as good as the young 'uns? If so, it does not prove that point — please, Grandpa, could you return to your usual self, which is something the young 'uns actually cannot imitate, no matter how they try?

Or maybe not, because after that dreadful experiment, Grandpa does try to fall back on the old formula, and the results are comparably pathetic. ʽWhatever Happenedʼ is a good title — because whatever happened to Brian's ability to pen a decent melody? We are not asking for another Pet Sounds — I mean, another Lucky Old Sun would have been quite enough. But this is just mush after mush after mush. Pretty harmonies on autopilot; safe, basic, bland instrumentation; not a single challenging or unpredictable vocal move anywhere. When exactly did lush baroque pop degenerate into smooth background muzak? Lounge instrumentals like ʽHalf Moon Bayʼ, instant­ly forgettable country pop like ʽGuess You Had To Be Thereʼ, and, worst of all, would-be-Beach Boy pastiches like ʽSail Awayʼ, which surreptitiously quotes ʽSloop John Bʼ and nicks some of its instrumentation and vibe, too, but hardly offers a tenth part of its catchiness.

The presence of Al Jardine (and even David Marks) on a few of the tracks adds to the illusion of another Beach Boys reincarnation (indeed, at one time Brian thought this would be a new Beach Boys project), but other than Al's well recognizable voice, songs like ʽThe Right Timeʼ are just more of the same elevator muzak. However, the biggest disappointment is probably ʽThe Last Songʼ — what could at least be an epic, heartbreaking conclusion ends up being a limp, strugg­ling ballad that is one hundred percent atmosphere, sappy, sentimental, and completely free of spiritual depth. Once again, I have no problems about Brian being a big baby: I do have problems when his music sounds like it comes from a little baby, without any signs of the astute psycholo­gism that it once had (not that it doesn't happen to a lot of people as they age — Ray Davies, for instance, seems to have suffered from the same problem).

Overall, for an artist of lesser stature a record like this would have been just boring, but for Brian this is downright awful. One can only hope that his songwriting instincts have been temporarily derailed and buried under the layers of misguided production and ridiculous ambitions of «hip­ness», and that he still has time to dig himself out and at least return to Lucky Old Sun levels of quality. Then again, it is perfectly possible that Joe Thomas isn't quite as responsible as we'd like him to be, and that it is simply old age catching up — after all, not everybody can expect to pre­serve compositional genius for more than five decades. Whatever be, I am actually glad to see that the album has largely garnered negative (or «cautiously positive», so as to not seem offensive to the Elder Statesman) reviews, and I do hope that Brian reads at least some of them. Really, I mean, it is not that hard to understand that something went terribly wrong here. And if you want to help out, I suggest you begin bombarding Brian's mailbox with ideas of what sort of collabora­tors could actually help rather than hurt his legacy — let us insure, after all, that his next project does not involve Zooey Deschanel at least, because he might eventually end up with Katy Perry, and that would just totally blow Grandpa's integrity to pieces. Thumbs down.


  1. Amen. If this turns out to be Brian's last album (I've heard rumors of impending retirement), then it will go from downright awful to complete musical tragedy. Feed this dreck to the goats on the cover of Pet Sounds. They'll enjoy it more than any humans will.

  2. To me this album doesn't really sound too different to the rest of Brian's solo stuff (the 'dance' track aside). All have this sort of production style that worked for the BB's in the '60s but not today on newer technology, and this 'lazily nostalgic' vibe. And of course his voice has been shot since the 70s..

  3. The primary reason that this wasn’t the next Beach Boys album, apparently, was because Brian’s wife annoyed the band (especially, not surprisingly, Mike) way too much during the sessions for the last one. They refused to deal with her and Brian again. It was her idea to bring Thomas in, just as she did for “Imagination”.

    I actually like that album, despite Thomas smoothing down Brian’s own quirky style. But I do have to agree with just about everybody else – he demolished this album. His biggest error was trying out the Clive Davis/Santana/”Supernatural” formula of duets with “young, hip” artists in order to prop up the album.

    Now, it’s one thing to bring in Elton John, Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton to boost a weak Brian Wilson album. But how many Brian Wilson fans (or even Brian himself, for matter) ever heard of or cared about these people? I happened to catch Nate Ruess’ band Fun on “SNL” one week, but that was entirely by chance. Thomas must have had some connections with these artists.

    Brian got amazingly defensive with fans on a Facebook post when they took him to task for the duets. The fans were right -- the two worst tracks are among them. "Guess You Had to Be There" sounds like he dropped in on a track on a Musgrave album, not the other way around.

    Of course, I also have to dump on “Runaway Dancer” like everybody else. I guess Brian forgot about “Here Comes the Night” – Beach Boys and dance-pop should never mix. At least that one had good vocals. On this one, Brian’s voice is autotuned and mixed down almost out of existence. Plus, the backing track isn’t even typical 21st century dance-pop like from Justin Timberlake or somebody (having an 11-year-old son, I am, unfortunately, more familiar with the genre than I’d like to be). It sounds more like tacky early 80’s dance-pop, failing in all respect at making Brian sound “contemporary”.
    The rest is just formless mush with no really good hooks or melodies. There’s Mark Isham’s smarmy smooth jazz trumpet on “Half Moon Bay”, along with Paul Von Mertens equally tacky sax on the rest of the album. The backing harmonies sound distant in the mix and not very interesting. Blondie Chaplin’s decades-lowered voice makes his verse of “Sail Away” sound a lot like “A Pirate’s Life for Me” from the last album. Al Jardine makes the chorus tolerable. He’s still in great voice (in his 70’s!) throughout the album, but Brian hasn’t given anything to work with here.
    I’ve said this before, but if this is the best Brian can come up with, then retirement should definitely happen.