Under Review: Brian Wilson – Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

Since finally assembling his long-delayed SMiLE project in 2004, Brian Wilson has released a Christmas album and an album of newly-written material.  Now you can add to that a collection of songs by George Gershwin.  The choice of material is appropriate enough on a number of levels: first, Gershwin’s iconic American style was always echoed in The Beach Boys’ music and, second, Wilson’s own songwriting has waned considerably over the years.  Part of this is likely due to his infamous mental instability, though I suspect an equally strong case of the just-can’t-write-‘em-like-he-used-to’s.  Even though Wilson’s songwriting is mostly on hold for Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin (he did supply some material for two unfinished Gershwin compositions), the arrangements of the songs are distinctly his.  “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” takes on a classic “Be True To Your School” bounce, and “I Got Rhythm” is presented as a saxophone-heavy assemblage of nearly every Beach Boys cliché.  The songs that are not as profoundly altered include a torchy “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and yet another version of “Summertime.”  Many of the selections are from Porgy And Bess, though Wilson could’ve dug a little deeper into Gershwin’s catalogue to pull out some less obvious picks.

The opening and closing snippets of “Rhapsody In Blue” completely water down the original’s genius into under two minutes of banal harmonizing.  I get it, Brian Wilson really likes group harmonies.  It’s just that the enormous, generic (though technically precise) backing band buries what’s left of Wilson’s artistic muse.  The big arrangements that made songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Good Vibrations” so innovative have since become props to instantly evoke Wilson’s better years.  Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin and its predecessor, That Lucky Old Sun, are such inessential listening that they make me question how much I legitimately enjoyed SMiLE.  This is the conundrum not only faced by artists releasing covers albums, but artists whose best output is already long behind them: If I want to hear the music of George Gershwin (or, for that matter, Brian Wilson), am I going to listen to Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin?  Like almost every other time I’ve asked this question of myself, the answer here is an unsurprising ‘no.’

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~ by E. on August 16, 2010.

9 Responses to “Under Review: Brian Wilson – Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin”

  1. You suck and have no taste in music.

    This album is perfect.

    Don’t quit your day job.

    • Pet Sounds was perfect. Surf’s Up was perfect. This album is sad.

    • “This album is perfect”? Seriously? Perfect albums are rare in by any artists or in any genre. I have a tendency to think that you love Brian Wilson a little more than most, perhaps in the biblical sense. You may want to take a step back from his woody wagon (if you know what I mean) and take a more objective listen.

  2. How about if Brian Wilson reassesses his career moves?

  3. Let’s examine this for a second….

    An astute, although critical, commentary is met with a blanket “you suck and have no taste in music” for merely expressing disappointment in a fading icon’s misguided interpretations of another icon’s body of work.

    Brian Wilson has created some of the most original and innovative American music ever! Just not this time.

    Niall, why did you stop short of using the term “asshat”?

  4. Hey E! Isn’t music reviewing your day job? You should follow Niall’s advice and stick with it! I enjoy your reviews.

  5. I completely disagree. Wilson has produced a heartfelt tribute to his musical heroes. He sincerely wanted to make an album that would make George and Ira proud. I think he succeeded spectacularly.

    Out of respect to the original writers, the central melodies and lyrics were left intact. From there – it’s an inspired, finely- crafted, and joyously performed fresh new take on some great American music that was in need of some dusting off – and some showing off.

    The understated intro and reprise – short vocal harmonies of some of the most magnificent passages from Rhapsody In Blue – are perfect, to my ears.

    George would have liked his 2 new collaborations with Brian, too.

    Brilliant arrangements and production. A must have – and I bet it sells, too!

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