After the enthusiasm that greeted Brian Wilson's 2004 SMiLE died down, fans of the former Beach Boy, then 62, wondered whether that album would turn out to be his swan song. Human creativity is finite, after all. And, despite Wilson's apparently complete recovery from his two decades as one of rock's most notorious drug casualties, self-abuse does take its toll.
That Lucky Old Sun (Capitol) suggests that Wilson has plenty of talent and ambition left. Or as he sings in "Going Home," "At 25 I turned out the light / 'cause I couldn't handle the glare in my tired eyes, / but now I'm back, drawing shades of kind blue skies."
Like SMiLE and 1995's Orange Crate Art, That Lucky Old Sun finds Wilson collaborating with Van Dyke Parks on what's less a collection of songs than a suite. Seven of the album's 17 tracks are segues that clock in at under a minute and are either reprises of the title cut or quirky Parks-composed recitations. And while one song, the infectious "Good Kind of Love," stands out in particular, the album's whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Besides Wilson's rejuvenation, the album's other theme is the one to which Wilson has remained faithful for over 40 years: California as American Shangri-La. So it's no surprise that the sound created by Wilson and his touring band (augmented by an eight-member mini orchestra) reverberates with Beach Boys echoes. Even a re-recording of "Can't Wait Too Long," a vintage Beach Boys outtake, makes a brief appearance.
As usual, the lyrics veer between the innocently silly and the charmingly naïve. Those familiar with Wilson's past, however, will find in at least one line-"Never destroy when you can create" (from "Oxygen to the Brain")-more meaning than meets the ear.