No Pier Pressure

Brian Wilson

Capitol Records, 2015

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/14/2016

It was almost too perfect; after decades of veiled and not so veiled animosity, the Beach Boys had reunited in 2012 to record what was a far better than expected album, That’s Why God Made The Radio. Critics received it well, it sold better than any “recent” Beach Boys album, and it seemed to give a fitting send off in the form of “Summer’s Gone.”

According to Brian Wilson, he had written that song for the express purposes of closing out the career of The Beach Boys...and to be fair, as of 2016, there doesn’t seem to be any particular danger of another studio album coming from Mike Love and Co. But if Wilson was done with Beach Boys, he certainly never made any claims to being done with his own career. And that’s what brings us to No Pier Pressure.

Each and every one of Wilson’s albums since 1988’s Love And Mercy has reflected Wilson’s musical world and beliefs. While some of those efforts lacked a certain level of quality, they all for the most part sounded like what you’d expect from a Brian Wilson record. No Pier Pressure takes a different tact, making attempts to bring that classic style into the modern scope of pop music.

Problem is, most of the album comes off as Brian Wilson playing down to the level of his “competition” rather than doing what he does best. The old man gets points for branching out, but I would be lying if parts of this record didn’t reek of corporate synergy, with guest stars being dictated and certain sounds being demanded.

If Wilson felt the need to modernize his sound, or to somehow reconnect with the younger stars of today, surely there are better ways to go about doing it than what we get with my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 No Pier Pressure. Why, for instance, would this legend of pop music be taking a backseat to the vocal stylings of She & Him (“On The Islander”) on his own album? If Mr. Wilson feels that strongly about it, why not offer to produce their album?

Kacey Musgraves shows up to croon alongside the former Beach Boy on “Guess You Had To Be There,” which is a pleasant little country-fied pop track, but it’s far from special, or even close to warranting her appearance on the record. Or how about the second song on the record, “Runaway Dancer?” It’s laying down what can only be described as a half-assed EDM beat, because, well that style is hot right now, and so why not?

I’ll admit, the one guest that shows up and delivers for me is Nate Ruess (of Fun fame). “Saturday Night” lyrically could fit right alongside any track from Today. It’s tale of a weekend in California, driving around and looking for love – a timeless subject for Wilson. As for Ruess himself, while he isn’t a dead ringer for Carl Wilson’s soaring falsetto, he brings back a little of that Wilson brother magic. The whole package just results in an exquisite three minutes or so of pop music.

Boy, don’t I sound super negative right now? Surely this album is headed for the dreaded, deliberate designation of a “D” right?? Well, long-time readers of this site know that if I have a soft spot for any artist, it’s Mr. Wilson. I respect the man and believe in his talents far too much to not hear some of the old brilliance scattered through No Pier Pressure.

Opening track “This Beautiful Day” is a spiritual successor to those stunning vocal introductions the listening public has received on records like SMiLE or That Lucky Old Sun. Not coincidentally, the better songs don’t feature any gimmick and harken back to those mid ‘70s Beach Boys records, where Wilson wasn’t the creative force he had been in the ‘60s but was still capable of crafting a few knockout hits there and then. “One Kind Of Love,” “The Last Song” and “Sail Away” are classic Wilson in sound. The latter features Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin, who contributed some of the better late period Beach Boys songs that deserve rediscovery (“Sail On Sailor” for instance).

It’s unfortunate that after what I considered to be a string of successful albums, Wilson has delivered his first major misstep since Gettin’ In Over My Head, the album before SMiLE brought him back to cultural relevancy. It’s unclear these days who is making the musical decisions for Brian Wilson – which is a sentence you’d have a hard time believing if you grew up in the 1960s with Pet Sounds and “California Girls” swirling in your head. My natural tendencies don’t fall towards cynicism, but No Pier Pressure does raise some warning bells for whatever comes next.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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