It’s been wonderful having Brian Wilson back. Ever since the former Beach Boy crawled out of his famed sandpit and sought life-saving therapy for mental trauma, he has re-emerged as the loveable doddery grandfather of sun-drenched pop. We’ve been honoured with his Pet Sounds tour and more recently his Smile tour to promote his legendary but never-released Smile album, finally out this September after 37 years of gathering dust.
It’s fair to say then that Wilson’s revival has centred around music made in his hey-day, when as a young man he captured the golden Californian dream with harmonic and honeyed songs of surfin’, crusin’ and young love. So what on earth are we to expect of Wilson’s latest offering, Gettin’ In Over My Head, his first solo work in six years?
Well, instead of stepping boldly into the present day and moving on towards music befitting a maturer and wiser man, this 13-track album is testament to Wilson’s inability to leave the past behind. He is constantly borne back to that endless dreamy summer of the sixties. Girls are getting excited about the high school prom. Tanned young surfers are laughing out of cruising coupes. The hazy Californian days refuse to dim.
The themes of young love and life prevail, whether it’s regretting a break-up in Soul Searchin’, serenading a girl in Rainbow Eyes or geeing everyone up for a Desert Drive. The sumptuous falsetto harmonies in each song are redolent of the Beach Boys sound, with some songs even sounding like existing ones. Gettin’ In Over My Head has the same lulling feel of Kokomo and the aforementioned Desert Drive harkens back to Little Deuce Coupe and Do It Again.
That a man in his sixties still sings of these themes is poignant. But the nursery rhyme-style lyrics and sweet innocence of the singing makes the album ludicrous. The repetitive Saturday Morning In The City is some sort of Toy Town snapshot of life: “I see some young people washing down the cars, they’re heading down to the matinee to see their movie stars…Next door they’re having a garage sale, Rover is barking now, okay here’s mail.” And all this with an accompanying whistle pop.
Rainbow Eyes is a romantic but absurd song, with the lyrics: “Rainbow eyes, red yellow, blue. Rainbow eyes I want you. Splashing colour everywhere that you go, fireworks explode when you cross the room.” Equally, Fairy Tale is unnervingly preposterous: “Dancing until dawn, flowers in your hair, magic music played, love was everywhere. Then a dragon came, cast a spell on you, stole your heart away.”
Opening track How Could We Still Be Dancin’ is only one of two songs set firmly in the present, (other one being City Blues, an electric guitar-based lament on the urban jungle). But even then it’s a retrospective look at the past with lines such as “How can we still be rocking after all those times, how can we still make music after MTV.”
That’s one of the better tracks though, despite Elton John hijacking the vocals, with a full orchestra, honky-tonk piano, saxophone and a choir of harmonies in an upbeat ensemble. Paul McCartney helps along on A Friend Like You, a sweet song about loyalty in companionship, but goes almost unnoticed just singing the title over and over again.
The album comprises of songs dating back to 1988 – the ethereal Don’t Let Her Know She’s An Angel, songs recorded with producer Andy Paley in the 90s, and a song sung with Wilson’s late brother Carl, who died in 1998. So the material isn’t fresh and on a different level is another delve into the past.
The songs on Gettin’ In Over My Head so desperately want to relive a youth that faded forty years ago they are but a jaded version of the original sound. They end up sounding like the result of a therapist’s regression session with all their disturbingly idealised and child-like glances upon the world. And it’s not a world belonging to the 21st century. I guess Brian Wilson just wasn’t made for these times.