Release Date: Apr 7, 2015
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock
Though Brian Wilson’s last proper solo album, That Lucky Old Sun, was released in 2008, it’s hardly been a quiet seven years for the former Beach Boy godhead. Wilson released two niche-y standalone records—2011’s Disney reinterpretations, In the Key of Disney and 2010’s tribute to George and Ira Gershwin, Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin. The albums, both a product of a deal with Walt Disney Records, were charming enough; they were inoffensive tributes to two staples of Wilson’s school of songwriting.
The news that Brian Wilson was working with Frank Ocean, She & Him and Lana Del Ray on his latest album was met with derision from the more conservative members of his fanbase, causing Wilson to quite rightfully state, “I’ve been told too many times not to fuck with the formula, but as an artist it’s my job to do that – and I think I’ve earned that right. ” Wilson’s bullish retort suggested that No Pier Pressure might be the album that finally sees him take the reins after a solo career that’s tended to bend to the influence of whichever co-producer was steering each project. Unfortunately, however, No Pier Pressure is another patchy collection that includes some of his best recent work alongside his most risible.
Brian WilsonNo Pier Pressure(Capitol)3 out of 5 stars The stellar history of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson is so indelibly etched into the American music fabric that he has rightfully become an iconic, living legend figure. This is Wilson’s first batch of original songs released under his name since 2008. It was originally intended as a follow-up to the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary and surprisingly successful That’s Why God Made the Radio album.
It's been a late-game rally for eternal teenager Brian Wilson, the boy genius-turned-Great American Artist who, by his own measure, just wasn't made for this world. After three more-or-less lost decades in the wake of Pet Sounds, few expected 2004's Brian Wilson Presents Smile — and even fewer 2012's intermittently great Beach Boys reunion album, That's Why God Made the Radio, with Wilson's wistful joy back at the helm. No Pier Pressure began as songs for the next Beach Boys LP, but when the group ran aground once more, Wilson called in a quirky mixtape's worth of young collaborators, and it became something else: The sound of a famously cloistered artist finally leaving his room.
When it comes to solo albums, Beach Boy Brian Wilson likes to go high concept. In the last decade, Wilson has re-arranged songs from Disney movies, interpreted pieces by George Gershwin, covered the Christmas classics and taken inspiration from the American standard “That Lucky Old Sun.” For the 72-year-old icon’s first album of original material in seven years, Wilson hit on an idea that’s new to him: He reached out to a younger generation. “No Pier Pressure” features guest vocals from Nate Ruess of fun., budding country star Kacey Musgraves, Capitol Cities singer Sebu Simonian and actress/singer Zooey Deschanel.
Despite its awful title, and the late omission of guest Frank Ocean from the tracklist, Brian Wilson’s 11th solo album shows he still possesses some of the qualities that made him the finest song arranger of his age. Unsurprisingly, No Pier Pressure works best when, as on What Ever Happened and Tell Me Why, the Beach Boy fastens winsome 60s harmonies to damp-eyed reflections on the passing of time. His concessions to the modern world are embarrassing (witness the sterile house of Runaway Dancer) but, at 72, Wilson hasn’t forgotten how to make a simple chord change sound profound.
That's Why God Made the Radio provided a bittersweet coda to the Beach Boys' career but the soothing sounds of the 2012 reunion didn't linger long before they were soured by the internal fighting endemic to the band. Mere weeks afterward, Mike Love announced Brian Wilson wouldn't join the Beach Boys for any dates after the summer 2012 tour, leaving Brian free to capitalize on the good press of That's Why God Made the Radio. He headed into the studio with guitarist Jeff Beck and producer Don Was in 2013 with the intention of cutting a full album but that collaboration quickly fell apart, leaving Wilson to re-team with his longtime collaborator Joe Thomas to turn these abandoned sessions into what turned out to be No Pier Pressure.
Brian Wilson’s 11th solo studio album opens just as you’d hope a Brian Wilson album to open: with mournful piano chords, a muted trumpet, lush harmonies and Wilson singing about his desire to hold on to the feeling of a beautiful day. One terrible misstep aside – Runaway Dancer, which sounds like Wilson trying to recreate house music as described to him by Alan Partridge – No Pier Pressure doesn’t bother trying to sound current, instead aiming to attract casual listeners with special guests, not all of whom complement Wilson: On the Island, with She & Him, turns out to be a slightly sickly piece of whimsy. The best collaborative tracks feature former Beach Boys – Al Jardine, David Marks and Blondie Chaplin pop up in varying combinations – but the best song closes the record.
It’s very possible that we’ve heard the last of Brian Wilson. Not because the opulent pop of the Beach Boys, or his rich and tortured personal mythology, are showing any fade in ubiquity—a movie about both, with Paul Dano and John Cusack playing younger and current-day versions of him, respectively, comes out this summer—but because the man himself is speaking bluntly of his possible retirement from music this year. So for anyone who grew up with a reverence for Wilson’s brilliant work—which, especially if you’re from California, can veer into a fanatic sort of transposed paternal empathy—his new and eleventh solo album No Pier Pressure carries the burden of serving as his gold watch.
When Brian Wilson announced that his new album would be heavy on guest stars, he was met with a considerable amount of backlash on social media. Old-school Beach Boys fans didn’t seem all that excited about possible duets with the likes of Frank Ocean and Lana Del Rey. “To me these collaborators represent exactly the type of pop fodder that is the very antithesis to what I associate with a genius like [Wilson],” wrote one commenter.
Wouldn't it be nice if Brian Wilson could crack out the good vibrations and get us surfin' in the USA again. It's been too long. Three years since his last record. We were beginning to think that God was the only one who knew when he was gonna write some new tunes. Now, the above paragraph is ….
Since his creative re-emergence with the Wondermints in 1999, Brian Wilson has been a steady presence both in the studio and on the road, producing (or in the case of Smile, releasing) his best work since his Beach Boys days. His young collaborators have helped shepherd the fragile songwriter's visions to fruition without losing Wilson's unique voice in a sea of contemporary production and songwriting tropes. No Pier Pressure throws out that decade and a half worth of good will by doing the exact opposite, stacking the record with guest stars like Nate Ruess and Kacey Musgraves and "updating" Wilson's compositions with heaps of undercooked stylistic diversions.
“Life goes on and on/ Like your favorite song,” Brian Wilson puffs on “This Beautiful Day,” but what he fails to mention is that, in his favorite song, life never goes on. For him and his uncannily perfect pop, life never goes anywhere in fact, and quite apart from its pristine innocence, his music is above all distinguished by a complete blindness to history and social change. Even in the 1960s, when he and his band were at their most mainstream-relevant with songs about “California Girls,” “Surfer Girl[s],” and “Girls on the Beach,” his art made a point of not referring to any specific historical, social, or political context, instead choosing to fabricate some quasi-heavenly, Peter Pan construct in which nothing ever happens, nothing ever changes, and no one ever grows old.
For die-hard Beach Boys fans, there is a very special kind of knot that appears in their stomach each time someone decides to drag out Brian Wilson for another go-around. You know that feeling when your elderly grandparent is wheeled out by your overbearing aunt to make a speech at Thanksgiving dinner—that “Oh, just let him eat his jello in peace!” feeling? It’s a bit like that. The ‘80s and ‘90s were filled with these moments for Wilson.
There’s a gauzy, soft-focus sound to Brian Wilson’s new solo album, “No Pier Pressure,” as if the album begins fading into memory the moment it’s heard. Much of that atmosphere comes from the songs, which savor the plush major-seventh chords and tiered vocal harmonies that Mr. Wilson introduced to rock in the Beach Boys’ 1960s hits. Half a century ago, those songs embodied the sun-swept vistas of California youth, although Mr.
When the Beatles expanded sonic boundaries with “Revolver” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” their innovations (with the possible exception of sitar-as-rock-instrument) seeped into the bedrock of popular music, which moved forward as a whole. When the Beach Boys did the same with “Pet Sounds” (and tried to push even further on “Smile“), they built more of an impenetrable, albeit gorgeous, wall.
Brian Wilson's 11th solo album was supposed to be many things. It was originally going to be a Beach Boys record, but instead features just a few members. It was supposed to include duets with Frank Ocean and Lana Del Rey, but instead we get Nate Ruess of Fun., She and Him and Kacey Musgraves. At one point it was going to prominently feature Jeff Beck, but none of his contributions made the cut.