Album review: No Pier Pressure - Brian Wilson
No Pier Pressure
The late-career resurgence of Brian Wilson is one of popular music’s biggest surprises – and greatest treats. The genius behind The Beach Boys’ majestic masterwork Pet Sounds (1966), Wilson’s mind became ravaged by the (clearly linked) demons of auditory hallucinations and substance abuse soon after.
By the mid-1970s he was a burnt-out wreck, a recluse living in the servants’ quarters of his Hollywood mansion, occasionally spotted at parties in a bathrobe. Diagnosed as a manic depressive with schizoaffective disorder, he spent decades in and out of hospitals. Brian Wilson was lost to the world, and the world had lost Brian Wilson – seemingly for good.
But then, in 2004, Wilson unleashed Smile, his shelved 1967 Beach Boys concept LP, close to four decades late. Finally, he really was back.
Chart-hugging albums of Gershwin, Disney and Christmas tunes followed, but No Pier Pressure is the 72-year-old’s first new material since 2008 – and could well be his last.
Unsurprisingly, it marks no great artistic departure from what has come before. The shimmering harmonies and laid-back, summery pop will be familiar to anyone who has heard his recent work – or, indeed, a Beach Boys song.
The irritatingly punny album title holds true – the plug was pulled on collaborations with Lana Del Rey and Frank Ocean. Thankfully, a cut with Fun’s Nate Ruess – the easy, breezy Saturday Night – survived the cull.
Other guests offer less: American indie duo She and Him appear for On the Island, a lazy bossa nova groove that is the wrong side of lounge. Country singer Kacey Musgraves’ Guess You Had to Be is pure MOR filler. And Runaway Dancer – a nasty, plodding electro-pop dirge featuring Capital Cities’ Sebu Simonian – wouldn’t be out of place on a cruise-ship karaoke set.
The mood is saved with What Ever Happens, one of two lush, harmony-stacked treats starring fellow Beach Boys survivors Al Jardine and David Marks. Blondie Chaplin – briefly a Beach Boy in the early 1970s – also crops up on Sail Away, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Sloop John B.
It’s on these moments of honest homage – far more so than the misguided flirtations with Latin and house beats – where the record starts to sing. But even these highlights are frustratingly weighed down by co-producer Joe Thomas’s laboured modern, Auto-tuned digital sheen.
There’s one more treat to be found on the album: the closer The Last Song, a beautiful piano ballad.
“Don’t be sad, there was a time and place for what we had, if there was just another chance for me to sing ... to ... you,” croons Wilson, and one wonders if this great mind is knowingly writing out his own final verse. What a way to go.