Not all the way there…

Brian Wilson solo album montageQuestion for discussion:

How important musically has Brian Wilson’s solo career been?

I made a BEST OF BRIAN WILSON SOLO playlist on my itunes, and it’s full of great music and songs, beautifully arranged and produced. But I’ve always detected a feeling of (for lack of a better term) non-presence in Brian’s solo work, like he wasn’t quite all the way there. It lends a sadness to some of his more poignant solo work. His solo SMILE, I think, is propelled by this feeling, as is THAT LUCKY OLD SUN, which, to me, is his best solo effort that, uhhh, isn’t SMILE.

Yeah… SMILE was originally supposed to be a Beach Boys record; yeah, the songs were almost 40 years old when he finally finished it as a solo artist. But the point was, SMILE was never a complete, unified piece of music before Brian and company put it together and performed it as such, then released it. And no matter how proponents of the original session tapes argue for the 1966-67 recordings, no matter how beautiful the Beach Boys’ voices were on those tracks, those tracks (a) weren’t a finished album, and (b) Brian’s age and experience in 2002 lent a melancholy and wistfulness to the music that simply could not have been present if he’d finished the album in 1967.

I’ve said it before: Brian had to live those intervening four decades in order to give SMILE the punch that it has. The Beach Boys’ sessions from 66-67 = beautiful and important in so many ways. But Brian’s solo SMILE = the definitive completed version of the work.

Brian seems to connect best as a solo artist with sadness; the hollowness and non-presence seems to come through most on uptempo tracks.

It’s hard to say that anything that Brian has done as a solo artist is as “important” as what he did with the Beach Boys, but then, that stuff was so groundbreaking, it’s almost not fair to make the comparison, so I won’t.

But I think it’s telling that the two best things Brian has done in the last 20 years are (a) the fulfillment and completion of SMILE (an unfinished Beach Boys record) and (b) THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO, a Beach Boys reunion album. Something about his songs and their voices is a perfect combination. Their voices are missed on his solo records.

What I loved about THAT LUCKY OLD SUN was that it seemed to reflect where Brian’s head was really at NOW. “Midnight’s Another Day” might be the best song ever written about depression.

And that’s what I like about Brian’s solo career. Jeez, you know… the guy doesn’t NEED to keep cranking out new music, but he is. The extent to which that new music reflects his current state of mind and spirit is the extent to which I like it. So songs like “Midnight’s Another Day” and “Lay Down Burden” and “Southern California” and “Summer’s Gone” get to me at my core, at age almost-50, the same way that songs like “In My Room” and “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” did at age 15.

And for that reason, I think Brian’s solo work is VERY important.

So, again: thanks, Brian.

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