Gettin' In Over My Head

Having miraculously survived decades of personal and creative turmoil, Brian Wilson re-emerged in the '90s to reclaim his incomparable pop music legacy with joyous tours that celebrated both the music that made him a star and Pet Sounds, the album that forever secured his legend. Utilizing the remarkable, dedicated band of musicians who backed him on those shows, Wilson re-entered the studio to once again pick up the promising, yet ever fitful recording career that last yielded '96's vocally gorgeous, if production cloistered Imagination. It's that renewed dedication to organic musicianship, coupled with a robust slate of Wilson songs new and old that will thoroughly delight admirers of the Beach Boys mastermind.

Three of Wilson's '60s/'70s contemporary superstar/admirers contribute performances: Elton John's forceful take on "How Can We Still Be Dancing" evokes the rollicking, youthful prime of both legends; Paul McCartney's guitar and vocals are considerably more subdued on the typically wistful "A Friend Like You"; Eric Clapton's searing guitar nearly overwhelms the chunky rhythms of "In the City." There's also a touching reunion with the disembodied voice of late brother Carl as Brian completes the latter's unfinished mid-'90s track "Soul Searchin'," but the real star here is Wilson's enduring muse. He variously evokes the spirit of Spector past and his old band on "You've Touched Me" and "Desert Drive," respectively, then reunites with Smile/Orange Crate Art collaborator Van Dyke Parks on the rustic, fiddle-adorned skewed romance of "The Waltz." The lovely, timeless title track effortlessly dispels any whiff of nostalgia, securing its place as one of Wilson's best contemporary ballads and delivering on this album's most rewarding promise: Brian is indeed back, and gloriously so.

Gettin' In Over My Head
2004  |  Rhino Entertainment 

1. How Could We Still Be Dancin' (with Elton John)
2. Soul Searchin' (with Carl Wilson)
3. You've Touched Me
4. Gettin' In Over My Head
5. City Blues (with Eric Clapton)
6. Desert Drive
7. A Friend Like You (with Paul McCartney)
8. Make A Wish
9. Rainbow Eyes
10. Saturday Morning In The City
11. Fairy Tale
12. Don't Let Her Know She's An Angel
13. The Waltz




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.

– Blog Critics