Album: Brian Wilson

Gettin' in over My Head, Eastwest / Rhino
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The Independent Culture

As much as one loves and admires Brian Wilson and his music, it's getting harder with each release to maintain the pretence that he's still a significant creative force. Since his eponymous 1988 comeback album, Brian's best work has all been retrospective - the I Just Wasn't Made for These Times soundtrack, the Pet Sounds concerts - while his new original material has been either mediocre AOR, as on 1998's Imagination, or deemed too poor to release, as on the abandoned Sweet Insanity project.

As much as one loves and admires Brian Wilson and his music, it's getting harder with each release to maintain the pretence that he's still a significant creative force. Since his eponymous 1988 comeback album, Brian's best work has all been retrospective - the I Just Wasn't Made for These Times soundtrack, the Pet Sounds concerts - while his new original material has been either mediocre AOR, as on 1998's Imagination, or deemed too poor to release, as on the abandoned Sweet Insanity project.

Regretfully, Gettin' in over My Head is likewise just a shadow of his former magnificence, a series of limp pastiches propped up by half-hearted collaborations including a weirdly mismatched hook-up with Eric Clapton. Elton John shares vocals on "How Can We Still Be Dancin'?", which opens the album in the corny fairground rock'n'roll style of 15 Big Ones, an earlier, equally doomed attempt to convince fans that "Brian is back". The Paul McCartney duet "A Friend Like You" is no better, its Pepper-esque arrangement a heavy-handed blend of pumping piano, fluting mellotron and glutinous sentiment. As for the Wilson/Clapton collaboration on "City Blues", it's simply impossible to disguise the evident incongruity between the two stars' styles on this organ-driven R&B groove.

The best collaborations are all from another era: Brian's late brother Carl takes a charming lead vocal on the limpid doowop-pop of "Soul Searchin'", one of several songs here spoilt by excessive Spectorisation. The two most balanced pieces, however, date from Wilson's mid-Nineties association with the producer Andy Paley. "Desert Drive" is a competent but hardly inspired return to "Shut Down" car-club territory, while the title track is easily the best actual song on the album and duly accorded Paley's best Pet Sounds-manqué arrangement.

One wonders whether there are other remnants from these sessions, and why Brian didn't just release them as an album in themselves. Certainly, they could hardly be less inspired than the half-dozen songs that complete this project, which simply underscore how badly Wilson has always needed a lyric collaborator to produce his best work. It's hard to credit the ghastly, gushing compliments of "Rainbow Eyes" or the "knights in shining armour" clichés of "Fairy Tale" as the work of an adult; and as for "Satur-day Morning in the City", there's all the depth and maturity of Pee Wee Herman in lines such as: "I see some young people washing down their cars/ Or heading down to the matinée to see some movie stars."

It's a sad, slapdash affair, presumably intended only as a warm-up for the re-recorded Smile set, for release later this year. Best wait for that, I reckon.

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