In the late ‘70s, Beach Boys fans were enticed by the much ballyhooed “Brian’s back” campaign, a slogan meant to herald the return of the group’s formerly befuddled leader, co-founder and composer.
Unfortunately, for all the hope — and all the hype — it inspired, Wilson’s return proved less than conclusive, given that his various mental and physical problems had taken a decided toll on his performing prowess.
Now, three decades later, there’s a relevant reason to reignite that campaign. Indeed, after reviving his lost masterpiece Smile and touring behind his live revival of Pet Sounds, Wilson clearly appears reanimated, re-inspired and reconnected to his muse.
The latest evidence lies in That Lucky Old Sun, his first collection of mostly new material in four years. More a wistful glance backwards than a piercing look forward, it finds Wilson tapping the title track — a venerable standard once crooned by the likes of Frankie Laine, Dean Martin, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong — as a recurring theme and centerpiece of a concept album espousing the joys of his beloved Southern California environs. Not surprisingly, it also echoes the Beach Boys, both in its alluring harmonies (the title track, “Can’t Wait Too Long”) and obvious autobiographical references (“Forever She’ll Be My Surfer Girl,” “Southern California”).
Shadows of their signature songs are also ever-present in the melodies, from the longing and loneliness of “Midnight’s Another Day” and its similarity to “Surf’s Up,” to “Live Let Live” which borrows the start-stop rhythms of “Sail On, Sailor.”
Admittedly, not every tune measures up to the best of Wilson’s repertoire. “Mexican Girl” (“Muchacha, I wancha… “) and “Oxygen to the Brain” are slight at best, filler at worst, and Wilson’s frequent between-song narratives often seem awkward, inspiring comparison, however unintended, with the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed. Still, these are relatively minor complaints. That Lucky Old Sun is pure joy, a giddy, engaging work that shines as brightly as that celestial body it embraces. (http://www.capitolrecords.com)