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Brian Wilson’s ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ shines

Josef Kuhn | Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Brian Wilson’s done lying in bed. He’s up and at ’em again with a new album, “That Lucky Old Sun.” The former singer, bassist and lead songwriter of the Beach Boys is widely known for the enormous impact he has made on pop music, but also for his long history of drug abuse and mental issues. With this new album, though, Wilson seems to proclaim his final redemption and his newfound love for life.”That Lucky Old Sun” was released on Sept. 2, a strange choice for a distinctly summer-flavored record. The album cover features oranges and bright flowers, while the lyrics are chock full of images of the beach, the sun, and Southern California. What else would you expect from a former Beach Boy? The music is pop at its most exuberant, combining the warm vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys with more complex song arrangements and instrumentation.The album centers on a theme that is initiated in the title track and then reprised several times throughout the album. In addition to this running theme, four so-called “narratives” intersperse the album. The narratives – spoken pieces of poetry placed over top of music – contain some of the best moments of the album, with Wilson almost channeling Jack Kerouac. The songs and narratives all flow seamlessly into each other, making the album play like one long, sustained musical piece instead of a chopped-up assortment of individual parts. What with the spoken pieces, the “Lucky Old Sun” theme, and the related subject matter of all the songs, the album is undoubtedly best when played all the way through.Although the Beach Boys’ influence can clearly be heard, the music departs from the surf rock genre in several key ways. One of the first things you will notice is Brian Wilson’s voice, which is clearly that of an older man, not the fresh falsetto of the adolescent Beach Boys. The music is more complex and challenging than that of the Beach Boys, although it is still highly accessible pop. Most significantly, the lyrics are more mature. Most of them express a joyful passion for life, using the vibrant locales of California as a backdrop. In a few songs, Wilson deals with his dark years of depression, but always with a happy resolution. It is clear that he has left his despondency behind and now has a much more positive outlook on life. Some other songs wax sentimental about the bygone days of youth, but Wilson avoids melancholy, instead looking back with rosy glasses.While the album is enjoyable and definitely worth listening to, it is not without flaws. To some people, the pop music might seem overly cheerful. Sometimes the simple pop melodies and chord progressions might even seem tired and boring. Since Wilson’s music has influenced so much of modern music, it is inevitable that listeners will feel like they’ve heard this stuff before. Likewise, many of Wilson’s lyrics seem trite and cliché (though there are flashes of poetic brilliance). Nevertheless, the record’s simplicity is its beauty. Often a happy song with a catchy melody and uplifting lyrics are just what our jaded college souls are yearning for. When that’s the case-when it’s negative 30 degrees outside and seasonal affective disorder is setting in-look to “That Lucky Old Sun” to give you a little warmth