'That Lucky Old Sun' is a marvellous piece of work that further carries Brian Wilson along the road of rehabilitation following several troubled decades.
Described as 'a musical love letter from Southern California', 'That Lucky Old Sun' is a lyrically impressive 17 strong suite that combines emotionally charged nostalgia with wistful paeans to Southern California.
More significantly perhaps given his troubled past is the renewed sense of optimism and joy that he can find in both his surroundings and his current music making. So whatever reservations the uncommitted listener might have about yet more odes to the West Coast, there are enough magical harmonies, lush arrangements and evocative between song narratives to convince even the most doubting music fan that Brain Wilson has come up with another masterpiece.
Happily teamed up with long time collaborator Van Dyke Parks who contributes the narrative links, Brian has also found an excellent writing foil in the shap e of Scott Bennett. Significantly perhaps, both additional creative sources played an integral part in the final resolution of the long in the making 'Smile'. And while 'That Lucky Old Sun' isn't quite up there with 'Smile' it is still a remarkable conceptual work for an artist of 66 who has suffered more traumas than most.
Amongst the sometimes moving retrospective moments there are fleeting autobiographical references that provide the core glimpses of the Wilson's current state of mind. He reaches back to 1961 on 'Forever She'll be My Surfer Girl', and cuts to the chase about his own mistakes on 'Oxygen To Te Brain' and further examines his own breakdown on the confessional 'Going Home' when he sings; 'At 25 I turned Out the Light, Cause I couldn't handle the glare in my tired eyes'.
On the closing 'Southern California' he reminisces about his musical brothers while the Van Dyke Parks scripted narratives provide the perfect links and west coast imagery. This is no more so than on the descriptive 'Venice Beach', which is viewed as; 'Home for all the homeless, hopeless, well heeled and deranged, Still, nothin' here seems out of place or strange'.
The lyrical landscape is further enhanced by some sumptuous horns and string arrangements and enough sparkling vocal harmonies to satisfy both early Beach Boys fans and those drawn to the later 'Holland'. Brian also adds some clever little word plays as on the co-written two line narrative reflection on the LA film industry; 'Actors waitin' tables, With a method they can't share'.
The voice may be a bit ragged and some of the songs like 'Mexican Girl' may be a little twee. And 'Midnight's Another Day' comes close to post cabaret, in a piano-led Randy Newman kind of way that even a cool horn arrangement coupled with some lovely choral 'oohs and aahs' can't disguise, but overall 'That Lucky Old Sun' is a superb album.
At 66 Brian Wilson is back producing some of the best work of his last three decades. Perhaps as he himself sings, he's just realised 'Now it don't matter what your age is, Don't you know it's just a state of mind'.
Review by Pete Feenstra
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