Brian Wilson is a man with a large reputation to live up to-- to be fair, taking the next step for the guy who wrote, arranged and produced arguably the greatest album of his generation (the incomparable Pet Sounds) must have been exceedingly difficult, and with resistance from the band, it took 37 years for its followup, the magnificent SMiLE, to surface. But Wilson's career during that 37 year window was largely hit or miss-- while Beach Boys fans, myself included, will speak lovingly of many of the later Beach Boys records, many of them were true group efforts, and Brian's "comebacks", 15 Big Ones/Love You and his debut solo album Brian Wilson, while endearing and engaging, were uneven and at times felt propped up. In recent years, as his solo career took off, barring the completion of SMiLE, Brian's records have sounded like forced attempts at adult contemporary-- much as I enjoy Imagination and Gettin' in Over My Head, they've felt like someone else's idea of how Brian should grow old.
Enter "That Lucky Old Sun".
My expectations were a bit low, I figured on either a continuation of the adult contemporary sound or a thoroughly retro record. What I got instead is what I'd hope it'd be-- Brian Wilson getting older gracefully. Conceived as a thematic suite, "That Lucky Old Sun" is a meditation of sorts on the life of Brian Wilson in Los Angeles. Like his best records from the old days, it's full of swagger (the superb "Going Home") and melody ("Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl"), with subtle arrangements and fantastic vocal harmonies. Ably executed by an ensemble largely drawn from Brian's touring band, the album is quite engaging and entertaining and while it feels more mature than, say, "Surfin USA" or "Wouldn't It Be Nice", it doesn't feel forced.
So is this another Pet Sounds)? Not really. There's some many tracks that just didn't engage me at all ("Mexican Girl"). But is it really, really good? Definitely. And certainly, it's got some of the best songwriting that Wilson's done in a long time.
This album is also available in a deluxe CD with bonus DVD edition-- for the few extra bucks, the DVD is worth checking out, it contains an entertaining, brief documentary and a couple live in the studio pieces.
Bottom line is-- "That Lucky Old Sun" is a fun record. It's not the best of the best of Wilson's catalog, but it's a fine followup to SMiLE, about as high praise as I can offer.