As one of our foremost pop archival labels, Rhino has shown a commendable readiness to support new work by artists who've received the Rhino reissue treatment. Among the cool guys to've put out new work on Rhino in their autumn years: Dave Edmunds, cult rockers NRBQ, comedian Stan Freberg – and, now, Southern Cali pop legend Brian Wilson. Getting' In Over My Head (2004) is the former Beach Boy's first release in six years, and it's arguably the notoriously neurotic songwriter's best solo work since 1988's Brian Wilson, a Sire release that the label reissued in deluxe format in 2000.
Longtime fans of Wilson and the sound he helped to create will already know what to expect from this disc: gorgeous use of studio pros and ethereal fx, doggedly old-fashioned rock/rhythm-&-blues constructions with an occasional nod toward boyhood days in the ol' church choir, lyrics that range from tellingly detailed to naively confessional to embarrassingly tin-eared (singled out by fellow Wilson fan Fred Hembeck in the comments section of my blog: "She had a body you'd kill for/You hoped that she'd take the pill for") – and at least one great track that efficaciously captures the classic Beach Boys vibe. In the case of Head, it's "Desert Drive," a tribute to drivin' (you can't help usin' a lotta truncated gerunds when writin' about this guy!) around the "hottest spot in the world," co-written with longtime solo collaborator (and onetime power popper) Andy Paley and featuring a chorus that could've come out of sixties BBoys (or Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon). In the days of long-playin' vinyl, this track would've been the capper to side one of the album – and it definitely would've inspired the listener to turn the record over.
In fact, if the primary mode for releasing music these days were still the two-sided LP, I suspect most fans'd say that "side one" (a.k.a. tracks 1-6) are where the album best holds together; its conceptual flipside is dominated by too many borderline icky pop ballads. Several guest stars show up on the disc:
- Elton John takin' lead vocals on the album opener, "How Can We Still Be Dancin'," (which sounds a lot like VH-1 era Elton, actually);
- Eric Clapton doin' rousing electric guatarwork on the paranoid "City Blues;"
- plus Paul McCartney doin' light acousticwork and back-up vocals on the sappy MOR poptune, "A Friend Like You."
But the guest shot that truly stands out is the late Carl Wilson's mournful vocals on album highlight, "Soul Searching," a track originally initiated for a proposed Beach Boys reunion and finished by his brother after Carl's untimely death. A beautifully regretful and melodic stroll, the track sounds like something the Boys would've crafted during the peak Brother Records years.
Brian's voice may no be the instrument it used to be (at times you can hear him straining on the lower registers) and his place in pop more Rock 'N' Roll Legacy – but for those who've continued to love his work, the appearance of a later day disc with our hero still singin' and croakin', still wonderin' whether he was "made for these times" and still playin' with the tools at his disposal (love, for example, how the dark tone of "City Blues" is answered on the later half of the disc by the goofy slice-o'-middle-class-life "Saturday Morning in the City") is still an occasion for joy. Kudos to all involved in keepin' Bri on his feet. . .