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Gettin' In Over My Head
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(2004/WARNER) 13 tracks - new studio project in the incredible Beach Boy sound feat. Eric Clapton, Elton John, Carl Wilson & Paul McCartney - 20 page booklet
How Could We Still Be Dancin'
You're Touched Me
Gettin' In Over My Head
A Friend Like You
Make A Wish
Saturday Morning In The City
Don't Let Her Know She's An Angel
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What we have left is a solid effort for a guy who was considered way past his prime.
For me, Getting' In Over My Head is indeed a real solo project. 1988's Brian Wilson had guru shrink Eugene Landy as his chief collaborator and co-producer (add profiteer) while 1998's Imagination had Wilson collaborate with ex-pro wrestler Joe Thomas. However, with this most recent effort Wilson is in sole control, entirely produced and arranged by himself. But he has lots of company and support.
The trademark harmonies, the dense orchestrated backgrounds are still there. Unfortunately today's advanced digital recording methodologies leave some of the productions with sterile-like quality, unlike his classic monaural recordings of the 60's. Some of the blends are thin, but still very enjoyable and listenable. But let's face it. No one wants to sit and do 25 takes of the same song, building and recording it "live" until perfect; that can be a long, tedious (and expensive) process by today's standards.
As far as the material goes, Wilson didn't have to take that much of a creative stretch; half of it was culled from past projects that never got off the ground. Two of the songs, "Make a wish" and "Don't let her know she's an Angel" are remnants from his unreleased second solo album Sweet Insanity. These songs were re-recorded and new backing tracks were made. The end results sound a helluva lot better than the originals.
Other songs, "Saturday morning in the City", "Desert Drive", the title track and "Soul Searchin'"(which features an absolutely stunning vocal performance from the late Carl Wilson) come from the Wilson/Andy Paley sessions that took place in the mid nineties.
The "new" songs-"How could we still be dancin'" featuring lead vocals by Elton John; "City Blues" with an instantly recognizable guitar solo by Eric Clapton and a duet with Paul McCartney on "A Friend like You" are all middle-eight, commercially-hooked songs that succeed in intending to grab the listener. All the elements are there, although not as expansive as one might have thought it could've been. Wilson's vocals are competent and although weathered, still has that raw emotion that transcends his age.
The rest of the material- "You've touched Me", "Rainbow Eyes", "Fairy tale" and "The Waltz" shows Wilson still in control of his production chops and creative juices. "The Waltz" in particular is old-fashioned Brian Wilson humor at it's best. ("She had a body you'd kill for/You hoped that she'd take the pill for") The song would have fit thematically on the Smile album if it were then available. All in all, Wilson tries his best to recapture the formula of the innocence of lost and found love-and he almost does it.
It would be unfair to compare this effort to his sixties masterworks. Unfortunately he has the dubious distinction to be measured to those seemingly immeasurable standards. We the public desire a visionary with a new standard and fresh musical appeal to quench our unsatisfied expectations. That'll never happen because in general, we're all too conservative. That's a shame for this is really a good -shy of great- project that Wilson manages to offer us.
In the albums liner notes David Leaf sums it up perfectly:
"What makes us all happiest is that Brian Wilson, whether onstage or in the studio, is once again making music that makes him happy. Does anybody deserve that more? Does anything else really matter?"
I couldn't agree with him more.
I can't figure out why people are going off on Elton John. Brian knew it was a perfect song for Elton to sing, just like John Lennon knew that "Whatever Gets You Thru The Night" was perfect for Elton to contribute to. I've never read anyone criticize Lennon for that, but Brian can't work with his musical buddies? Likewise, Clapton's solo is scorching and helps "City Blues." The song with McCartney is kind of mawkish, but it isn't manufactured sap like "Ebony and Ivory." It is sincere as Paul and Brian are huge fans of each other's work. "Don't Let Her Know She's An Angel" is really pretty. I think it will become some kind of standard.
Okay, some of the lyrics are goofy, but what do you expect from Brian, who is an "adult child"? At least with Brian, the sentiments are straight from his heart, and are about things that normal people can relate to. I guess if you want lyrical sophistication, you can go listen to Eminem or Britney Spears.
Also, it is bizarre to be reading that Imagination was better. The production on that CD was sterile and un-Imaginative. Here we have Brian adding his own unique production flourishes to every song, from using bass harmonicas (as on Pet Sounds) to pennywhistles. We have his band playing the songs live in the studio, so the songs have more energy to them. This album is "up" and "energetic" and for some reason, people want Brian to be serious and artsy all the time. They forget that this is the same guy who made his fame from writing "up" songs like "Fun, Fun, Fun."
Anyway, 4 Stars because Pet Sounds and Today are 5 stars. They will always be Brian's best works, along with some of the Smile stuff. But just because this new music isn't as moving doesn't mean it bites! Come on, people!
Listen to the chord changes draped with lush harmonies on tracks like "Fairy Tale", "Don't Let Her Know She's An Angel" and the title track. Gorgeous and utterly unpredictable. Are they really much removed from "She Knows Me Too Well" "You Still Believe in Me" or "Til I Die"?
Furthermore, all the pain and loss of his life (child abuse, insecurity, drugs, mental illness, family deaths, manipulation by Landy and others) can be sensed in his ballads. They said no one could "talk a lyric" like Sinatra and that is true. He took the compositions of others and gave them weight and meaning...made them his own. Brian, on the other hand, shamelessly and unselfishly bares his soul in everything he writes. Even to those who have never met Brian, it is obvious that he has not a hint of artifice in his entire being. He has ever been a sweet and guileless soul and when that kind of innocence is blended with his evergreen musicality, the effect can be heartbreakingly beautiful.
He may not score a "hit" from this album, but the ability to bring joy and even tears (to those who will listen) is worth a sight more, in the long run, than a short stint alongside Britney and Ludacris (sic).
It's not a bad album, though. Fans of Brian will enjoy it more than the casual listener, and it will appeal to older listeners more than younger ones.
Highlights on this CD include "How Could We Still Be Dancin'," which features a terriffic Brian Wilson arrangement/background vocal and a great lead by Elton John. This wouldn't be out of place on a circa-1974 Elton release. "Soul Searchin'" features a wonderful vocal by the late Carl Wilson--the tape was rescued from an abandoned Beach Boys project, and Brian has reworked the background track beautifully. "You've Touched Me" is slight, but the title track has a very nice mid-1960s Brian Wilson feel to it.
"City Blues" is somewhat generic--Eric Clapton's guitar solo could just as well be on Elton John's early 1990s release The One. I can't get through Brian's duet with Paul McCartney, "A Friend Like You"--the sentimentality wouldn't be out of place on the Beach Boys Love You, but the performances really aren't that impressive. (Paul sounds particularly uninspired.) On the other hand, "Desert Drive" is an excellent upbeat tune that sounds a lot like an adult "409," but with a bit more humor in it.
Several reviewers have said that "Make a Wish" is out of place; I agree. Its message is very much in the vein of two earlier Brian Wilson songs, "Love and Mercy" and "This Whole World," but it's a bit heavy-handed for this album (and with the tune and production, I can't help but recall an early 1970s bubblegum songs--Brady Bunch songs come to mind). "Saturday Morning in the City" is a mid-1990s leftover collaboration with Andy Paley, although in truth it's a good remake of the never-released Smile-era song, "On a Holiday" (to be heard on Brian's upcoming SMiLE release). "Fairy Tale" isn't a bad song--very listenable--and "Don't Let Her Know She's An Angel" is pretty much a return to form for Brian. Perhaps the oddest piece here is "The Waltz," a collaboration with Van Dyke Parks--some have been baffled by it, but I find it to be a hilarious and fun song not unlike what you'd expect from a collaboration between them.
Overall, the Elton John and Carl Wilson collaborations alone make this CD worth owning. Despite a few missteps, flat notes, and hurried vocals here and there, there are plenty of other good songs on this album as well.