Life Of Brian

The Beach Boys' Mad Genius Comes Up With Another Winning Album.

By Dave McElfresh

MIKE LOVE, FELLOW Beach Boy, must be seriously pissed off at Brian Wilson's recent non-Beach Boy success. In 1995, Wilson recorded the exemplary Orange Crate Art with composer Van Dyke Parks, a figure Love had resented way back in the days of "Good Vibrations" for steering Wilson into incorporating esoteric lyrics that had nothing to do with beaches or surfer girls. Even Wilson's ragged versions of Beach Boy classics on the same year's I Just Wasn't Made For These Times whupped the last wheelbarrowful of Beach Boys' albums. And, though Love and some of the other Beach Boys held up the 1996 release of The Pet Sounds Sessions because Capitol Records initially heralded the box set as a paean to Wilson rather than the entire band, everyone knew whose pet sounds they were.

Music Now Wilson releases the surprisingly coherent Imagination, a collection of fine pop tunes retaining the unmistakable Beach Boys feel despite having been co-written with such questionable cohorts as Jimmy Buffett, J.D. Souther and Carol Bayer Sager. No doubt even Love is left to question whether the "s" in Beach Boys may have been misleading.

To be fair, Imagination comes at a time when it would have been accepted had it been as dreadful as Wilson's previous solo outing. The revival of interest in '60s teen trash music a la Dick Dale and the Ventures has primed younger fans for further surf material; and Wilson's highly publicized status as a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic couldn't work more in his favor in an era that exalts the mad pop artist. But in spite of such peripheral perks, Imagination truly stands on its own musically--and, much to Love's chagrin, could even be touted as the best Beach Boys album since the early '70s.

Wilson has weathered all sorts of evils. His father was an abusive tyrant masquerading as his son's manager, resulting in permanent psychological damage to Brian immediately evident in many of his interviews. Loads of LSD didn't help matters much. Wilson accused the other band members of sleeping with his wife, built a living room sandbox to hold his grand piano, believed one of his songs caused a fire near the studio (resulting in the permanent shelving of Smile, the album on which it was to appear), and spent two years literally hiding in bed--throwing a completely new light on the song "In My Room." Complicating matters, he spent much of the '70s under Love's spell, with the bearded singer veering the band toward the philosophy of transcendental meditation, a mystical belief system guaranteeing you can float in the air if you get yourself together via their swami stuff.

Love and others in the band forced the unstable Wilson to submit to the nazi tactics of a live-in shrink, Eugene Landy, for years. Not long ago Love successfully sued Wilson for co-authorship of tunes written decades earlier--a rather belated move suggesting to some that he might have been taking advantage of Wilson's precarious mental state. Worst of all for Wilson, though, was the loss of both brothers Dennis and Carl, the latter's death last year putting an end to the most successful family band in popular music.

Wilson, bless him, has survived it all, bringing to Imagination the infectious melodies, intricate harmonies and post-pubescent mentality that made Pet Sounds the ultimate portrayal of teen angst. Parents, drugs, gurus, psychiatrists, death, infighting--the rather delicate and still shaky Wilson has whupped them all.

It's a somewhat sad victory, though, as the lyrics of "Your Imagination" attest: And when I feel all alone/Sometimes I think about you/You take my hand/Smile and say you don't understand --a line that brings to mind a 1995 interview video showing the scattered singer sitting next to his young, somewhat ditzy wife--a woman who was still in diapers when Wilson was first in the studio cranking out California theme songs for an era she missed altogether. Another car running fast/Another song on the beach, he sings, many years after the Beach Boys wore out their welcome even at the state fair level--though Love last year embarrassingly compiled a band of mostly secondary members and extras (including Glen Campbell) and played as the Beach Boys, minus Brian. I miss the way that I used/To call the shots around here, goes the song. Betcha do, Brian, having led the most successful regional band in the history of rock music, created the album that inspired Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and racked up a reputation as one of the most creative arrangers pop music ever had. Imagination, though, is a fine return to form, even if it doesn't catapult him back to the top of the charts a la Dick Clark's era. Could be that Wilson's imagination these days settles for a handful of 16-year-old listeners checking out the old Surf's Up album. Wouldn't it be nice? TW

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