Schizoaffective disorder. “A person with schizoaffective disorder may manifest impairments in the perception or expression of reality, most commonly in the form of auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions or disorganized speech and thinking, as well as discrete manic and/or mixed and/or depressive episodes in the context of significant social or occupational dysfunction.” (Wikipedia)
Schizoaffective disorder is the disease with which Brian Wilson has been diagnosed. For 43 years, the disease has periodically driven the Beach Boys’ lead singer to total despair, causing him to resort to cocaine, overeating and an exploitive therapist for healing. Diseased, Wilson goes on living. Why?
“That Lucky Old Sun,” Wilson’s attempt at an answer, is an extended ode to Los Angeles. In it, he sings about the city’s “dodger-blue sky,” its “star-studded concrete,” and how such things “make you want to move / Even though it’s laid back.” For Wilson, Los Angeles is the embodiment of something wonderful. Surfer girls, Mexican girls, God — all of these things form part of this greater Thing called L.A., this Thing for which Wilson loves and lives. Before, this Thing remained in the back of his life, allowing him to struggle on and make great pop. With this album, however, he is actually trying to bring it to the forefront of his art, trying to realize it. He tries very hard.
The best Beach Boys songs are special because each one contains such a wide range of sounds, influences and emotions. “Good Vibrations” has been described as a “pocket symphony.” This can’t be said of “That Lucky Old Sun.” With this odd album, Wilson has drained his music of all subtlety and now drenches listeners with wave after wave of — sunshine! Revel in major blues progressions, people yelling “Arriba!” in the background, ca-razy harmonica solos and lyrics like, “Even when the sun and I head off to sleep / There’s an unspoken promise that we keep / We’ll pilot our light into another day / And keep a golden glow warming up L.A. / Even when dreams are deep and sweet / I’m listening for the rhythm of the MORNING BEAT!” (The capitalization is Wilson’s, to be found in the liner notes). When even music fails to be an adequate vessel for his ecstatic vision of L.A., Wilson ups the ante — five times in this album he breaks down into spoken-word admirations of his city, complete with beatier-than-thou swagger and lingo. At the end of one of these slams, Wilson asks the listener, “Will you take what I’m confessin’? Will you find the heartbeat in L.A.?”
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Wilson wants to convey his jubilant vision of the City of Angels. What he gives us, though, is a shiny, shiny, oddly naive tourist’s guide to the Greater Los Angeles Area. Despite their awesome efforts to uplift, Wilson’s songs here — unlike so many of his past best — never become greater than the sum of their parts. They remain queasy melanges of blues and mariachi and barbershop quartet, all with vocal arrangements that sound like truck drivers doing the Beach Boys. L.A. never escapes Wilson’s no doubt fascinating mind.
This failure to communicate is sad. Wouldn’t you like to know why Bryan Wilson goes on living?