Disney Pearl Series, 2010
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/14/2010
Brian Wilson has become the equivalent of one of CBS’s popular CSI spinoffs: Miami, New York, Toledo, Edmonton (OK, I made those last two up, but honestly at this point would it surprise anyone if you saw those shows on the fall premiere list for 2013?). Between all the iterations of the program, there is no change in formula or style. Interchange the characters’ storylines and one wouldn’t be able to discern a noticeable difference. But for those who fit the proper demographic, they can’t get enough of the highly procedural, ADD-addled proceedings.
Brian Wilson has been attempting to reclaim his reputation as one of pop music’s greatest minds for about twenty years now, and as we speak, has done an excellent job in doing so. His album releases are hailed as the next work from a genius, continuing the legacy that was reignited following the completion and release of SMiLE. There is no doubt Wilson knows exactly who his demographic is: Wilson fans are notorious loyalists who rage against the slightest knock against their idol.
Since the early aughts, in which Wilson finally finished SMiLE, he has gone onto release, in order: a Christmas album, a concept album about California, and now an album featuring nothing but the songs of George Gershwin. The comparisons between the two have been featured in press releases for years now, so it seems a natural fit to have Wilson work on the songs of his esteemed predecessor.
Wilson’s immense talents never fail to impress the casual listener. His skills as an arranger are second to none in the pop scene today. He has resisted updating his sounds that made songs like “Good Vibrations” the continuing revelations they are today. Everything about Wilson screams Old School, and an album of Gershwin tunes seems to revel in such a mindset. Whether or not such a choice would potentially alienate the record buying public is immaterial.
Gershwin is still a name that has some gravitas in the present day. His reputation as the quintessential American songwriter still stands amongst the musical literati. His songs, on the other hand, don’t carry much cache amongst your average fan. Lacking such familiarity with the material essentially means that, for many, this record will be the first time they have heard these tracks in any form. Wilson presents them in a manner that unfortunately makes one wonder, “What’s the fuss about?”
If you have had the chance to listen to A Brian Wilson Christmas or That Lucky Old Sun, there is nothing on …Gershwin that would surprise you. Not a single note is out of place from what Wilson has been delivering for the past decade. You have the opening a capella number that introduces the key theme/concept for the album in “Rhapsody In Blue;” there’s the requisite rock number that recalls the glory days of the early Beach Boys in “I’ve Got Rhythm,” and plenty of other familiar moments along the way.
In a way, that is the great disappointment of the record. The potential behind this project was tremendous, but Wilson chose to play it safe and by the numbers. It’s certainly not a blight upon mankind; Brian Wilson doesn’t have the capacity to create a sustained stretch of poor music (we will ignore Getting In Over My Head; let’s call it a fluke). But with a certifiable genius behind the board, one would have expected something a touch more transcendent, linking two eras of American music together. Are those expectations too high? For anyone other than Wilson, I would have said yes.