Inspired by the life and music of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, this labour of love is an affecting, often very moving listen
Trust Jeremy Warmsley to do something a bit different with the concept album. Warmsley’s last solo record was released at the end of 2019, consisting of 12 singles released monthly, named after each month and even managing to make each song sound like the month it was released in. His new project, American Daydream, is arguably even more ambitious. The subject is one of Warmsley’s heroes, Brian Wilson. Yet this isn’t a covers album – instead, it’s almost a musical biography of The Beach Boys‘ genius songwriter.
So, on Warmsley’s homage, each song is about Wilson’s troubled life – and also sounds exactly like The Beach Boys, in each phase of their long career. So there are songs about Wilson’s father’s physical abuse of Wilson, his legal troubles with the rest of the band, the toxic, controlling relationship with Dr Eugene Landy and so on. To raise the ambition further, as the album progresses, each era of Wilson’s career musically features, from the twangy surf guitar of early Beach Boys to the baroque chamber-pop of Smile and Pet Sounds.
Warmsley employs his considerable production expertise to re-create the Wilson sound, but ingeniously, American Daydream never sounds like pure pastiche. The harmonies (usually multi-tracked versions of himself, with additional contributions from his wife and Summer Camp bandmate Elizabeth Sankey) are present, but what lifts the album above copyism is the attention and care that Warmsley has obviously lavished on the project. And, to further add to the record’s authenticity, he’s also employed members of Wilson’s touring band, such as Probyn Gregory.
Each track tells a story about possibly the most famous troubled genius in pop history. Sometimes, it’s quite abstract – the gorgeous Sing From The Heart talks of “brothers taking care of older brothers” but that’s the only reference to the band. It’s followed by California Boys, a full-on Surf Pop classic which tells how the band was formed (“Brian is the leader, he’s got that goofy smile, Dennis is the only one that really surfs, Carl plays guitar at 100mph, Mike sings low and dances like your dad”). To describe the formation of one of the most famous bands in the world in just two and a half minutes is quite an achievement but Warmsley pulls it off beautifully.
Fathers And Sons, is divided into two parts, and looks at the often troubled relationships between Wilson and his father. In a nice touch, Warnsley’s own father and his infant son provide backing vocals. That particular song is one of the more poignant tracks on the record, dealing as it does with Wilson’s period with Eugene Landy (“he stole your music, what made you human”) before concluding that “seems to me, you were always looking for love”. The way that Warmsley’s mixed the multi-tracked vocals around the song is beautifully effective.
The beautiful thing about American Daydream is that all aspects of Wilson’s life are covered. A Day In The Life Of Brian addresses the infamous post-Landy era when Wilson was undergoing a severe period of mental illness, but does so with a dash of humour (“even Iggy Pop said you were too weird”), while the bonus track I Love Pet Sounds is simply Warmsley singing about how much he loves that classic album. It’s essentially Warmsley fanboying for a few minutes, but it’s done with so much love and enthusiasm that the track’s charm wins through.
Obviously, your love for the work of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys will determine how much you enjoy American Daydream, but there’s no denying that this labour of love is an affecting, often very moving listen. You won’t hear much better tributes to a musical genius than this one.