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Back in 1988 Beach Boy fans around the globe got their very first taste of Brian Wilson as a solo artist. Ok, some would say there are plenty of Beach Boy albums that fit that description, but this time there would be no Beach Boy blend on the vocals, this time it was all Brian.
The songs written for this were the first concerted effort to writing an albums worth of tracks from Brian since The Beach Boys Love You album back in 1977. During the period between these two albums so much had happened in the life of Brian, and none of it good.
Middle brother Dennis drowned in 1983 and that sent Brian into another downward spiral fuelled by drugs and booze. Many were expecting Brian to join Dennis pretty soon. As a last resort psychiatrist Eugene Landy was hired. His controversial 24 hour care had brought Brian back to health before in the 70's and it was his job to save him again.
The good news was that Landy did get Brian off the drugs and physically he was much improved. The downside to all of this was that Landy had a wish to be a rock star himself and he lived the life through Brian. He took over every aspect of Brian's life, lived in Brian's house and renovated it at Brian's expense while Brian lived in Landy's house with the minder hired to take care of him. He even wrote himself into Brian's will. The short story of this is that Eugene Landy was a dangerous man and fed Brian full of drugs of a different kind and brainwashed him for far longer than he should ever been allowed to. For more on this search "Brian Wilson Relations With Landy," on youtube. It's really tragic.
The relevance of Eugene Landy to this album is that Landy had a part to play in its development. There were too many cooks on this album already and Landy was yet another one to demand a say in how it would sound. Given that he was a psychiatrist and not a music producer whatever little touches he added only made things worse.
He is also responsible for this being a Brian solo album and not a Beach Boy one. Landy wanted to control Brian and kept him away from the Beach Boys and his family as much as possible.
The final sound is basically the worst 80's production clichés all in one place topped off with too much synth and drum machines. The 80's wasn't a good era for music and this album suffered the same sickness that had infected the industry during that decade.
It's not all bad though because with a little bit of prodding and a bit of help Brian wrote some really nice songs for this album with pretty melodies and of course his trademark harmonies everywhere.
Vocally Brian mostly uses an older more mature version of his Wouldn't It Be Nice voice. He does all the harmonies himself and he carries it off very well though some of the falsetto sound a little strained. The vocals aren't mixed right up front in the way most of the vocals are these days which is a bonus because I don't like that kind of mix.
The Track listing is;
Love And Mercy
Walkin The Line
Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long
One For The Boys
There's So Many
Let It Shine
Meet Me In My Dreams Tonight
The album opener kind of sums up the album in its entirety. Love and Mercy is considered one of the very best songs the man has ever written. I think of it as Wilson's equivalent to Lennon's Imagine. Brian has been using it as a concert closer for oh I don't know how long and it's the perfect finale to send us home feeling loved.
As great as the song is, you actually have to try a little to get into this version. Once you get over the 80's production you can hear its beauty. It's a lovely song that could have been so much better.
What we have here is a song that sounds great acoustically, a little guitar, a bit of piano and not much else is needed. Fortunately we got that version on the I Just Wasn't Made For These Times album.
Melt Away like Love and Mercy has a stripped down version on I Just Wasn't made For These Times. For me that is the ultimate version of this song. The one here is ok and not terrible but the synth sounds dominate too much once again. It's quite clearly a very beautiful song though and nobody will hate the version here, but most will wish it was acoustic just like I do.
Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long is a little bit like a sequel to Caroline No's "Where did your long hair go." This is a really nice track and I like the transition to a higher part. There is also a short two line section where Brian sings more tenderly and I kind of wish he'd sang a bit more of the song in that voice rather than the slightly shouty vocal used in the remainder.
One For The Boys is a Beach Boy style acapella with all the vocals from Brian. It's quite amazing to hear how much he can sound like the Beach Boys all on his own. This reminds me of the Smile track Our Prayer and is quite soulful.
There's So Many is a song for the lonely.
There's so many dreams to dream of
Why not dream about my true love
And even though I can't be with her
I still have my fantasy
Landy kept Brian away from the fairer sex and I believe Brian did have a short romantic encounter with his second wife Melinda during this time which Landy called an end to. It's pure speculation on my part but maybe this was written for the lady Brian was destined to marry once Landy was out of the picture. Quite beautiful.
Let It Shine is a collaboration with ELO's Jeff Lynne. Lynne apparently had most of the song finished when Brian met up with him. Brian added the "Let It Shine," round intro and bridge and the song was complete. It's a nice and touching song. On this CD version the music comes through pretty clear and it's not as cluttered as it sounded on vinyl. It's still very synth of course, and it does sound like an ELO song but it has a melody that is to easy enjoy. Brian does some great vocal work here.
The intro to Meet Me In My Dreams Tonight sounds like a Christmas song. Maybe there is a Christmas song that has a similar kind of bell dominated intro and this reminds me of it.
This is uptempo and bouncy collaboration with Andy Paley. I like this one a lot, it's a happy song and if you're in love and apart you'll really get this one. It would have made a great Beach Boys song with Carl on lead, it could have been an 80's chart hit and one that people remembered the band for instead of the awful Kokomo.
The album closes with Rio Grande. Back in 1988 when I bought this on vinyl this is the song that restored my faith that 1988 Brian Wilson still had some magic left in him. On first listen, I enjoyed the vast majority of the album but nothing had really knocked me sideways and made me go all teary and start loving Brian all over again.
Rio Grande does just that.
This is the one song that isn't dominated by harsh synth, It a departure from the rest of the album and goes on a journey back to the mid 60's to sit next to it's sister Heroes and Villains with its similarly modular structure and western theme.
The opening section is the "Ride Up," part with harmonic Ahhh's gives way to a toot from a train then second Cowboys and Indians section starts with its plodding cowboy style bass line.
The third section sounds like some cowboys sitting around a campfire strumming some guitar and that in turn fades into to some kind of Native American chanting. Some don't like it but it is fine by me.
With a crash of thunder the rain falls we have what is the highlight of the album. With a little tinkering on the keyboard and guitar we get some absolutely gorgeous harmonies. I don't know how many Brians we get here, but there's a lot of him and it's a perfect passage of music. It finishes with the harmonies turning into what sounds like a train horn and the Night Blooming Jasmine section comes in with yet more great harmonies and a little acoustic guitar. Then it fades away just as it starts with the Cowboys and Indians section making a return.
Brian really out did himself on this one and I think he knew he was onto something great because the vocals go up a level for this and I adore it. Needless to say, on my vinyl copy the eight minutes and twelve seconds of grooves that contain Rio Grande were worn out well before the rest of the album even sounded used.
The album doesn't end there with this CD reissue. We get some bonus tracks, the highlights of which are an interview with Brian about Love and Mercy and some Rio Grande outtakes.
The Love and Mercy interview give us a little bit of time to listen to Brian speaking about the song. As much as I like hearing what he has to say I'm glad when he shuts up and sings Love and Mercy accompanied by just a piano. We only get one verse and the chorus but in that short time I heard enough to make me wish that he'd have made Love and Mercy without interference from anyone and just made it a piano/vocal track.
The Rio Grande Outtakes are great. I include the Night Blooming Jasmine track in this too, it's nice to hear the extended version of that section. The rest of the Rio Grande outtakes include the backing tracks for the first two sections, a couple of sections that never made the final cut including a section called Cuckoo Guy which I really like, and a rough vocal for the beautiful middle section. It's really interesting to how this song could have sounded but I think Brian made all the right choices in what to include.
All in all I find this to be a very enjoyable listening experience. Of course there are holes to pick in it, especially if you're like me and really don't like the 80's sound.
However there are so many great melodies, harmonies and top notch song writing that deserves to be heard that it's worth listening past the production to discover its beauty.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Love And Mercy
2 Walkin' The Line
3 Melt Away
4 Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long
5 Little Children
6 One For The Boys
7 There's So Many
8 Night Time
9 Let It Shine
10 Meet Me In My Dreams Tonight
11 Rio Grande
12 Brian Wilson On Love And Mercy
13 He Couldn't Get His Poor Body To Move
14 Being With The One You Love
15 Let's Go To Heaven In My Car
16 Too Much Sugar
17 There's So Many
18 Walkin' The Line
19 Melt Away
20 Night Time
21 Little Children
22 Night Bloomin' Jasmine
23 Rio Grande
24 Brian Wilson On 'Rio Grande'
25 Brian Wilson On 'The Souce'/Christmas Message