Release Date: Sep 2, 2008
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Rock, Pop
Brian Wilson apparently got his ambition back when he completed the Beach Boys’ lost opus, SMiLE, a few years back: The all-new That Lucky Old Sun is similarly structured as a song cycle. But the concept this time is a simplistic glorification of familiar L.A. tropes. The sunniness can feel strained, and ”Forever She’ll Be My Surfer Girl” is as unnecessary as sequels get.
Wilson's recovery from mental adversity to creative health is cause for celebration, but that doesn't make Lucky Old Sun a work commensurate with Smile. The concept of LA as a 'Sunblessed City of Angels' is trite, co-opting another's song for the theme tune lazy, and much of what follows resembles a Beach Boys tribute band. .
That Lucky Old Sun rarely approaches the subtleties of the classic Beach Boys sound. What it evokes instead is the driving '70s productions on latter-day Beach Boys albums like 15 Big Ones and Love You -- granted, with innumerable production touches that could only have come from the mind of Brian Wilson (ah, the clip-clop of wood blocks!). It's obvious that Wilson was at the center of some of the best and brightest productions of the '60s, but the added assumption about being at the center is that there are integral parts radiating outward.
Did someone ask Brian Wilson to use Oklahoma! as a model for a musical theatre production about California, or were those just voices in his head talking? It appears that Wilson came up with a couple of tunes about his own troubled life - Oxygen To The Brain, Can't Wait Too Long and Midnight's Another Day - but realized it might be too much of a bummer, so he tacked on a few happy-sappy Beach Boys throwbacks to make for a sunny little song cycle about a magical place filled with sun, sand and surfer girls. And he probably wonders why people think he's lost in a time warp. .
In case you forgot (and because it may be the only thing he remembers), Brian Wilson would like to officially remind you that he loves southern California. A lot. So much so that he’s crafted a massively bloated, half-sung/half spoken-word musical tribute to the mythically sunsplashed vistas that stretch from Hollywood to Venice Beach but are only utopic within the lysergically hammered wrinkles of this Beach Boy’s brain.
The trouble with pop music, the thing no one ever envisaged, is that no one ever wants to stop making it. A few decades ago the idea that bands would exist past their 30s was ludicrous, now the baby-boomers are into their 60s and still they plough on. Brian Wilson brilliantly nailed the elliptical beauty of the Californian lifestyle 45 years ago - so why can't he just leave it alone? That Lucky Old Sun is full of Beach Boys-isms - the massed choral voices, the jaunty piano, the strident strings - but it's just not any good at all.
"Fell asleep in the band room, woke up in history," muses Brian Wilson on "Southern California," That Lucky Old Sun's final track and the album's attempted encapsulation of that troubled trajectory. Whereas 2004's epic completion of Smile allowed the Beach Boy to rewrite (and right) history, his follow-up plays like the ultimate product of that self-examination. The album wanders wistful and romantic, with touches of regret accentuated by the familiar harmonies and intricate pop production weaving the instantly classic titular song throughout.