****"BRIAN WILSON." Sire/Reprise.
This long-awaited solo debut by the mastermind behind the Beach Boys' hits is not only the comeback of the year, it's a strong case for the argument that genius isn't a perishable commodity.
Genius is a word that is overused in pop music, but Wilson is one of the artists--along with Ray Charles, Lennon-McCartney, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Prince--who undoubtedly qualifies. For all his gifts, however, the 46-year-old Wilson was long ago written off as a creative burnout who had said all he had to say by the age of 25. But the beauty of the melodies and harmonies here indicates that while Wilson's genius may have lain dormant, it wasn't exhausted.
Despite all that he has been through, the mood of "Brian Wilson" is disarmingly innocent and optimistic. The songs have a tremendous amount of heart. "Melt Away," the most gorgeous ballad on the album, contains the sole allusion to Wilson's long exile. But even it ends on a positive note, and the warmth of the melody could melt a polar icecap.
In every area, Wilson displays a surprising degree of confidence and authority. He even tries his hand at a complex, eight-minute suite, "Rio Grande." The journey through the Old West is one of the most ambitious pieces Wilson has ever recorded, and one of the most richly satisfying. The song's panoramic, wide-screen approach is a peak achievement for an artist who has always done so much with sound. The saga is in the tradition of American folklore, which is appropriate coming from the creator of the Beach Boys, a quintessentially American group.
Wilson tips his hat to his longtime idol, Phil Spector, on two cuts. "Little Children" has the exuberance and innocence of Spector's girl-group hits, and "Meet Me in My Dreams Tonight" echoes his thunderous wall-of-sound productions. Wilson also includes a bittersweet instrumental salute to his old group, "One for the Boys."
A couple of songs are throwaways: "Night Time" is trite and banal, and "Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long" seems juvenile. But the album is more than the most die-hard Beach Boys fan could have hoped for. It also makes you acutely aware of the special place that Wilson occupies in American pop music--and of what we've been missing all these years.
**** Great Balls of Fire
*** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Running on Empty