I’m on holiday – but couldn’t resist visiting a beautiful place with a Brian Wilson connection- Bellagio in Italy. With No Pier Pressure as soundtrack, it’s been a great time to celebrate BrIan even so far from home or California.
I read today in the news that ISIS, the hateful extremist group in the Middle East, punished musicians with 90 lashes -the pretext was it was “unIslamic” but surely it was more the potential for music to inspire, console and heal.
And that indeed is what music is supposed to do, and what Brian Wilson has been doing for than 50 years. Through his own tribulations, music has been his escape but also his gift to the world. He perfected it by the age of 23, releasing the greatest record released by humankind, Pet Sounds. In trying to surpass this record, he went to the edge of madness, but still was able to finish it many years later. He found his sound 45 years ago -the perfect combination of melody, harmony and reflection of deep human emotion. There is certainly no need for him to innovate -but it is a joy when he still gives us reminders of that glorious past.
There is no pier pressure on Brian -but also no harm in him inviting some of his old bandmates and some new friends to take us another trip through the sunshine and darkness of human experience, and layer it in the magical pop sounds he is known for. We are blessed with 13 new songs (16 on the deluxe edition), and while there may be more featured artists than a modern rap album, and even a venture into urban music on Runaway Dancer, the heart of this album is rightfully and joyfully in the past.
There is something of a celebration on the record, but it doesn’t skirt past some of the deep emotions that make Brian’s best work so vital. The opener This Beautiful Day is an opening invocation calling us to capture and be thankful in a moment, and recalling Our Prayer in more than a few ways. We end with the Last Song, ostensibly a final plea to ex-bandmates, but possibly even a final message from Brian. The final words “there’s never enough time for the ones that you love” are poignant and thought-provoking and both the opener and closer are laced with beautiful piano and strings.
In between, we get the pop perfection of Sail Away and The Right Time, fronted by Blondie and Al in a way that reminds you that the Beach Boys are here in spirit, if not in name. The romantic instrumental Half Moon Bay relaxes and swoons, while collaborations with Sebu (Runaway Dancer), She&Him (On The Island) , Kacey Musgraves (Guess You Had To Be There) and Nate Ruess (Saturday Night) give the album some vocal and musical variety, without necessarily being the strongest moments.
The emotion actually picks up on some of the more understated tracks -What Ever Happened and Tell Me Why both feature Al Jardine’s vocals, a highlight of the record, and mourn the passing of time and love affair respectively in classic Brian style, while One Kind Of Love refers to healing, unconditional love that we all need. The Peter Hollens track, Our Special Love, has been released for a while, but fits in nicely here, with it’s beautiful sound and emotion.
The “bonus tracks” on the deluxe edition fit in seamlessly, and if they are more “throwaway” from Brian, seem to almost benefit from that approach. Somewhere Quiet is Summer Means New Love with words, showcasing the romantic side, while I’m Feeling Sad shows that everything isn’t always sunshine and roses, contrasting with the uplifting Don’t Worry.
Overall, No Pier Pressure is more than satisfactory, mostly with Brian doing what he does best, making beautiful, healing music. Aside from The Last Song, there are maybe no major classics, but there are plenty of minor ones. One hopes it will make old fans smile, win new fans and be a fitting soundtrack to what should be the summer of Brian.
The Brian Fest, held on 30 March, appears to have been a great success, with articles and videos appearing all over the internet. A comprehensive article, including setlist, can be found here.
The joy of the Brian Fest is tempered with the sadness that another cast member of the great Beatles drama has taken a final bow. Cynthia Lennon was a woman of great grace, and it is very sad to report her passing on yesterday.
1)CHRISTMAS EVE (Beach Boys)
2) LIKE DREAMERS DO (Beatles)
3) PRETENDERS TO THE THRONE (Beautiful South)
4) FREAK (Belle And Sebastian)
5) I WANT YOU (Bob Dylan)
6) THE RIGHT TIME (Brian Wilson)
7) LONELY IN MY HEART (Dionne Warwick)
8) SUMMER AIR (Explorers Club)
9) YOUR NATURE (Hothouse Flowers)
10) THE GREAT DEPRESSION (Jam)
11) THE ETON RIFLES (Jam)
12) JUST WHO IS THE FIVE O’CLOCK HERO (Jam)
13) BEAT SURRENDER (Jam)
14) SIX KISSES (Mary Epworth)
15) CORTEZ THE KILLER (Neil Young)
16) LONG MAY YOU RUN (Neil Young)
17) LOST ON THE RIVER #12 (The New Basement Tapes)
18) AN OLD FILM OF MINE (Pete Wiggs)
19) PRIMROSE (Pete Wiggs)
20) SHOPPING SPREE (Pete Wiggs)
21) THE PATHS OF OTHERS (Pete Wiggs)
22) COME WITH THE GENTLE PEOPLE (Stu Phillips)
23) ISLAND IN THE SUN (Weezer)
Brian Wilson’s knowledge of astronomy may be somewhat simplified and not fully scientific in his 1977 opus Solar System, but it certainly shows a fascination in the distant worlds and the wider universe of which we are a very small part.
And though space is very, very big, this is actually the year of the dwarfs in space. Two worlds, both previously thought of as planets but now categorized as “dwarf planets” will be visited by spacecraft this year. One of the worlds is Pluto, famous for its demotion from a planet, which many haven’t accepted it. The other is Ceres, lesser known as it has long been demoted and simply known as the largest of the asteroids. In fact, it’s “dwarf planet” status was something of a promotion. And with Ceres already being orbited by the Dawn spacecraft, that small world is now getting it’s place in the news, especially with the mysterious white spots in the picture.
Ceres is a dwarf planet, but it remains the largest of the asteroids, of which there are many millions. However, only a few are named after popular musicians, and it is pleasing to Brian is one of those immortalised in the sky. The solar system has come full circle.
The “summer of Brian” has been extended to cater for Brian’s extensive UK fanbase, with a number of September dates in England and Scotland announced. The venues for these shows also look larger than those on his previous tours, including arena size venues, including the O2 in London which can take 20 000 people. No pier pressure, then.
As we pass the equinox, and summer becomes a prospect in the north, and starts fading here in south, we are getting closer to Brian Wilson’s new album, which according to this article was almost a Beach Boys album. The “retirement” word is also mentioned, but with Pet Sounds 50th anniversary so close, surely next year is an opportunity for Brian, if not the Beach Boys, to do something final on a positive note.
The passing of time also sees more classic pop people leaving us -this week saw us lose Michael Brown of Left Banke, mourned by Bob Stanley in this great article here, and just today, we heard about the passing of Jackie Trent.
There’s an interesting article in the LA Times where Brian Wilson talks about the Blurred Lines verdict, where Marvin Gaye’s estate successfully sued for royalties for a Marvin Gaye sounding similar to the recent hit. The line between inspiration and plagiarism is always a fine one in music, as Brian notes for Surfin’ USA, and this theme is also thoughtfully explored by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley in the Guardian.
Also in the article, Brian says that he is already thinking about his next album (after No Pier Pressure) and it will be the” long awaited” rock and roll album. Let’s see….
The big local news in my city, Cape Town, has been fires. Massive fires that have swept away acres of vegetation, destroyed houses and threatened many more. The bravery of the firefighters has been notable, and there has human and other tragedy.
Yet fire is also part of the cycle of this part of the world -the local vegetation relies on periodic fires and rebirths. Being a Brian Wilson fan, one’s mind immediately goes to the latter part of SMiLE and the sinister “fire” music, Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow.
Behind the odd title, showy firehats and fire whistles on the music, I always felt this was the heaviest bit of music related to Brian and the Beach Boys. Whereas their other music relied on harmony and melody, this piece has always been about power, dissonance, heaviness. It’s always scared me a bit – and been music I have respected more than loved.
But just as Cape Town does need it’s fire, I realise that SMiLE needed this as well – to burn away all that’s past, and be healed by the cool, cool water of In Blue Hawaii and to allow the Good Vibrations to flow. SMiLE is about healing in many ways -hear the brilliant way a broken heart is mended in Workshop, but we need the pain, the flames. And although Fire may have burned away the chances of SMiLE coming out in 1967, it led to the ultimate healing of Brian,
This blog is aiming to review the Beach Boys albums exactly 50 years after the day of their release. It wasn’t that long ago that we covered Surfin’ Safari -now less than two-and-a-half years later, we have made a huge musical advance to this album and a major step to Pet Sounds. On side two, the five ballads are not only musically far ahead of the pack (the Beatles hadn’t even released Help! yet), but lyrically are very much around the theme of realising that love was far more than a game.
Side one establishes Brian’s pop mastery credentials- Dance Dance Dance and Do You Wanna Dance? were the major hits, although When I Grow Up (To Be A Man) is superior lyrically and production-wise – and 50 years later, has an additional element of poignancy. The inferior version of Help Me Ronda and the throwaway chat of Bull Session With Big Daddy probably prevent this album from becoming the absolute classic it should have been, but it still remains one of the key testaments to Brian’s genius.