New album marks the return of one of the great musical heroes of the 1960's.


{mosgoogle}While most people with any sort of interest in  pop music are familiar with The Beach Boys, only those with a genuine affection for their music know that The Beach Boys to a great extent were an instrument for their genius musical brain, Brian Wilson. The oldest of three brothers (all members of The Beach Boys), Brian Wilson created an astonishing series of hits for the group between 1962 and 1967. Not only were the Beach Boys a huge commercial success during this "golden era", but they were by far also the most musically advanced. The musical innovation and experimentation that Brian Wilson accomplished during this period even went beyond that of The Beatles, and countless musicians and producers have acknowledged his profound influence.

Pet Sounds

In a frenzy of creativity, Brian Wilson wrote, arranged and produced no less than 12 artistically and commercially successful albums in less than 4 years. This unheard of tour-de-force reached its artistic climax with the stunning 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds, which has been hailed as the best pop album ever made. Although it sold far less than previous Beach Boys albums, its influence on popular music right up to this day can hardly be overestimated. In terms of production, arrangements, musical invention and sheer creative power, it was nothing short of a major breakthrough. It was also a radical departure from the group's well-known songs about girls, surfing and hot rod cars, and a very different listening experience from the good, though rather superficial and simple pop music of the mid-60s.

While everybody else, including The Beatles, at that time made enjoyable, but fairly uncomplicated songs about immature love, Brian Wilson, at the age of just 23, created a whole album with an emotional depth and intensity of feeling which at that time was unprecedented. With the release of Pet Sounds, pop music finally came of age. It was followed some months later by the single "Good Vibrations", which once again was a major revolution in musical invention and sophisticated production. This was to be followed by another album, known as Smile, but for various rather complex reasons, this project was never completed, and has instead remained the most famous unreleased album of all time.

Unfortunately, Brian Wilson got heavily involved in drugs in the late sixties, and with more personal problems than anyone can be expected to handle, he retreated from an active role as creator and innovator on the musical scene. Although The Beach Boys continued their career into the 70s and 80s, they would never again match the success they had enjoyed during those first few years, when Brian Wilson was at the peak of his creative powers.

We are now at the end of the '90s; the good, old days of the '60s are but a mere memory, the Beach Boys are a phenomenon of bygone times and Brian Wilson's brothers, Dennis and Carl, are both dead. Brian Wilson, however, is still very much with us. He recorded a musically very satisfying album in 1988, and although it was no commercial success, he once again proved that he hadn't lost his magic touch.

With a new, drug-free life, and the awful personal problems he used to struggle with a thing of the past, Brian Wilson has now released his much anticipated new solo album, entitled Imagination (Giant Records). As yet, it is far too early to determine what impact, if any, his 1998 musical message will have, but after listening to Imagination just a couple of times, it is quite clear that at least in terms of creative mastery, Brian Wilson has once again delivered the goods. Co-produced with Joe Thomas, who has obviously had a major influence on the album, Imagination marks the triumphant return of one of the great musical heroes of the 60s.

What is immediately striking about this album is the rather slick, modern production, which is so flawless and sophisticated that it seems at times almost too perfect. The many loyal fans who had expected and hoped for "Pet Sounds: the Sequel" will probably be a bit disappointed with Imagination. While awash with truly wonderful music, exquisite melodies and awesome multi-tracked vocals, Imagination can't really be compared to the revolutionary musical statement that Pet Sounds was, quite simply because it's a completely different kind of record. Imagination can hardly be called groundbreaking in the same sense that Pet Sounds was, but why should we expect it to be? It is still a masterpiece in its own right, and might very well become a true classic. It is evident that Brian Wilson has come a long way personally and musically since his last solo effort ten years ago, but he also ties up with his past by including new versions of two Beach Boys classics, "Let Him Run Wild" and "Keep an Eye on Summer". Most die-hard Beach Boys fans will probably want to stick to the original versions, but the new ones still give us remarkably fresh and delightful renditions of songs that many had considered to be perfect in the first place.

The rest of Imagination consists of nine new songs, most of them co-written with Joe Thomas or others. The first single, "Your Imagination", is the immediate stand-out track, but all the songs on Imagination grow on you with repeated listening. "South American" is perhaps the catchiest tune on the album, while "Happy Days" is by far the most personal and moving song. It deals with the personal crisis that Brian Wilson went through in the past, and his subsequent recovery in recent years.

While Imagination is an exciting and exhilarating album in every sense, what is perhaps most impressive about it, is Brian Wilson's remarkable vocal performance. He sings all the lead and virtually all the background vocals, and his voice carries his musical message with great dignity and conviction. The multi-layered vocals create an unusally strong emotional impact on the listener, and his singing is absolutely gorgeous throughout the whole album. Imagination is on the whole a truly great comeback for an artist and composer who has certainly had his fair share of setbacks during his career. It holds out great promise for Brian Wilson's musical and personal future, and should win him many new fans. To quote one of the lyrics: "Oh, my gosh, happy days are here again!"

This article was published in New Renaissance magazine Vol. 8, No. 2