Brian Wilson

Giant Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Right about during the middle of listening to Imagination, I asked myself a question; is it fair for us to hold true artists to an incredibly high standard? For example, many people judge the Beatles' solo works according to what they did as a group. Or what about an author like J.R.R. Tolkien, should his later other works be held against Lord Of The Rings? I sat there pondering this, and decided that while it certainly isn't fair, that's life.

Brian Wilson is responsible for two of the greatest albums in rock history, Pet Sounds and SMiLE. His earlier work with the Beach Boys is by no means shabby either. So before listening to Imagination, I had this notion that the record would have to be great. In retrospect, that wasn't a wise choice on my part. Imagination has some moments that recall Wilson's heyday, but they are few and far between.

The blame for this record lies at the feet of Joe Thomas, who produced my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Imagination. Wilson usually produces himself, but for this record he decided to work with Thomas, a former wrestler who was getting his feet wet in the music business. Big mistake, Mr. Wilson.

On Imagination, Thomas creates a different and unsuitable sound for a Brain Wilson record. There are no songs that really capture the complexity of, say, "Good Vibrations" or "Wouldn't It Be Nice." Instead, the listener is presented with a very adult-contemporary, acoustic-driven album that at times resembles some of the soulless tripe of the '80s, despite the fact Imagination came out in 1998.

The only two tracks to come relatively close to the old Wilson sound are the first two of the CD. "Your Imagination," sports some of Wilson's best vocal work since the early '70s and has a strong refrain where Brian reminisces about the old days. "She Says That She Needs Me," which was written by Wilson back in the '70s, features some wonderful harmonies to be found, and some short orchestral interjections that hearken back what made Wilson famous in the first place.

Unfortunately, trite lyrics and uninspired songwriting quickly derail any momentum that Imagination had going. "South American" sounds more like a Jimmy Buffett song than a Brian Wilson number (Buffett sings on this track, which may have played a part). "Happy Days" is supposed to be the artsy offering, but with this production there is nothing avant-garde about it. Two Beach Boys songs get made over here, "Keep An Eye On Summer," and "Let Him Run Wild." I have never heard the originals, but I can only assume they were done much better.

Finding the silver lining is easy; Brian Wilson sings his ass off, doing both lead and harmony vocals. And not only does he sing well, he sings with passion, something lacking in his more recent work. Between the powerful desperation of "Cry," and the soaring, ethereal voices of " Where Has Love Been," it's almost enough to overturn the negatives that Imagination offers.

If Wilson took his vocals from Imagination, and the music from Getting In Over My Head, we would have another classic Brian Wilson record. Unfortunately, until last year's SMiLE, his solo work has been spotty, punctuated by tremendous highs while simultaneously hitting the lows. This dichotomy is what has kept Wilson until very recently reclaiming his legend and place in the music industry.

Rating: C+

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