Brian Wilson - Brian Wilson

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Brian Wilson's first solo album created a good share of media hoopla upon its release. This was not necessarily because of the music, but simply because his very existence -- or, at least, proof of his existence via his first fully engaged recording project in about a decade -- was greeted as a cause for celebration. Although it did not shift tons of units, it did spark a landslide of ecstatic-to-charitable reviews, largely because so many critics were eager to latch on to any evidence that Wilson's musical genius was still intact. Viewed more coldly after the hype faded, this self-titled release is an odd, flawed creation, certainly leagues above the Beach Boys' post-'70s output, yet certainly leagues belowWilson's best work with that group in the '60s. While he retained his gift for catchy melodies and dense, symphonic production, there was a forced stiffness to both the songwriting and execution. Much of the blame for the album's mixed success can be laid upon its sterile, synthesizer-laden arrangements and echoing percussion, which epitomized some of the less attractive aspects of late-'80s production. However, the songs were not among Wilson's best, either, their hooks pleasant but easily fading from memory, the lyrics full of ambiguous romantic optimism completely belied by the nervous, mannered vocals. The concluding eight-minute suite, "Rio Grande," was a self-conscious and, again, only partially successful attempt to match the grandeur of the miniature conceptual pieces Wilson was penning in the Smile era. For all that, it remains the best album of Wilson's solo career, principally because he has recorded so little material since then, and written even less.