To still have a Wilson in any kind of operating form is probably good enough for now.
Chris Jones 2008-09-02
When, in 1963, Ray Charles recorded the 1949 standard, That Lucky Old Sun, he nailed the real pain behind the lyric: the underdog's dream of an end to the trouble, strife and misfortune of a life spent in servitude and humiliation. Beach Boy Brian Wilson's take on it is somewhat different. Used as a recurring theme to his series of 'rounds' reflecting the passing of a Californian day it's given a Four Freshmen, barbershop blandness that's totally at odds with the heartache it was meant to convey. If there's a sadness anywhere on this album it's in the places where he pines for lost friends, family and non-existant 'Surfer Girls'. All of which begs the question; do we really need more of the airbrushed, idealised California, no matter how couched in sun-kissed harmonies and adolescent innocence it may be? This time, maybe not...
This nostalgic aspect has been used too often. That Lucky Old Sun - premiered last year on London's South Bank - is a romp by a 66-year-old through halcyon days that never existed. When he says ''when you wake up here you wake up everywhere'' it's the sound of a man who's bought into a myth of Los Angeles: one that undoubtedly contributed to him losing touch with reality in the mid-60s. How else could he perform something as trite as Mexican Girl ("Girl, you cast a net/On the day we met")? It's certainly a different vision of immigrant LA compared to that of Ry Cooder on his Chavez Ravine album.
As ever, the Wondermints revive the sound of Wilson's ideal Beach Boys (without the griping of Mike Love, for starters) and they somehow manage to do justice to the legacy of lost brothers Carl and Dennis. But you can't help thinking that they're giving us a photocopy of the idea of the band.
Luckily, Wilson employs genius wordsmith Van Dyke Parks to toughen things up a notch, though his imagery on the spoken interludes sounds sound oddly gruff and stilted compared with the sunny eulogising going on elsewhere. ''Hucksters, hustlers and hawkers/set up their boardwalk shops/ Home for all the homeless hopeless/Well heeled and deranged'' or ''Pumps Drunk with oil/Dance like prehistoric locusts on the hills to L.A.X'', indeed.
None of this makes That Lucky Old Sun an unmitigated disaster. Wilson IS a genius, and there are still enough touches of that melodic brilliance to keep interest alive. But something this pat will never join the ranks of Smile or Pet Sounds. Yet to still have a Wilson in any kind of operating form is probably good enough for now.