‘Old Sun’ is ‘Old, son’

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?

Comments

  • Sherri

    I know why Brian Wilson goes on living, but wondering why they let you go on reporting ….

  • Mary

    Wow, this "review" is completely inappropriate and insensitive to people
    with mental illnesses! Beitler is basically telling us that someone
    with a mental illness, Brian Wilson in particular, has no reason to live. Is Beitler implying that Brian would be better off dead? That is just outrageous! Furthermore, the definition of
    schizoaffective disorder comes from wikipedia which is an unreliable,
    user-generated site. Even if it is correct, it would be so much more professional to use one of the many expert sites available and any decent writer should know to only use expert references.

    When you combine the author's ridiculously offensive and insensitive
    approach with the poor judgment in technical references and poor writing
    style, you get a hideously immature review. Did an untested teenager write this?

  • Tim

    what a pathetic review. Did you actually end it with a question on why the only surviving Wilson brother should go on living? Completely ignorant.

    By the way Ben, Wilson didn't even write the lyrics you are ripping. they were from collaborator Scott Bennett. Way to do your homework, you stiff.

  • Devon

    I know the "if you don't have anything nice to say" rule doesn't apply in the world of reviews, but in your case, you deserve the "if you're going to make fun of people with mental illnesses" rule.

    you are questioning Brian Wilson's mental state? I have to question the mental state of the admissions department that let you into college.

    Brian is a musical genius. you are a journalistic bottom feeder. why don't you try writing all that music (*hint* which is different from the lyrics)

    and good job getting your sources off Wikipedia. Your term papers must be drowning in red ink.

    have a grand day :)

  • Ron

    I listened and listened but I could never find the "vocal arrangements that sound like truck drivers doing the Beach Boys." Maybe I was listening to the wrong album. The vocal arrangements and harmonies I heard were angelic and sweet.

  • andy

    What a jerkoff

  • MARK O'BRIEN

    Having followed Brian's career --with its ups and downs-- for 45 years or so, I have come to appreciate his creativity and talent in a different way. I suggest you attend a concert and then apologize for the insensitivity expressed. (MOBRIEN@OBRIENLAWCORP.COM)

  • Lawrence

    This review was irresponsible on so many levels, I hardly know where to begin. Oh, I get it. Young student who believes that only his generation's the one to change the world and that the way to do so is tear down anything past, let's see, 25 years of age. Kid, you have a HUGE amount of growing up to do and the sad thing is you won't realize/admit it 'til you've made yourself look the fool you obviously are. Check back with me in a couple decades, and we'll see if you're still wearing that smirk. Oh, and, "TLOS" is fantastic album…it just requires the listener to actually pay attention. Go back to your video games, Ben.

  • RS

    I have no problem with your opinion of the album, but this is criticism at its worst. Your claims are hardly substantiated with evidence, and the review wanders from the music into Wilson's personal life. I can hardly blame you … your editors must be awful. Go take a crash course in criticism. I expect better from a paper of this stature.