September 1998

Brian Wilson - Imagination
Giant Records 924703-2 (Warner Bros.)
Released: 1998

by Doug Blackburn

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment *****

[Reviewed on CD]Anybody who has any appreciation at all for Brian Wilson’s solo or Beach Boys music needs to have this album. It is the work of a troubled genius who is leaving the troubles behind and making his own glorious brand of music. Imagination follows Brian’s penchant for dense mixes. The better your system is, the more you’ll hear in this dense wall-to-wall sound field. It is a constant source of amazement to hear new things you never noticed before. Just when you think you’ve given the album the definitive listen, you notice a new touch of genius you missed on all previous listens. There are even some interesting moments that will make you glad you spent the big bucks on your high-end system -- some spatial/distance/perspective things.

Make no mistake about it, Brian Wilson remains a genius at work. It’s a deceptive sort of genius though. When you first start listening to Imagination , you respect the pleasant pop/rock tunes which sound pretty easy to get a handle on. This may lead you to think Imagination is a little lightweight at first. As you re-listen, however, you will start to hear the genius in the details. Normally I’d think re-doing a 1964 composition like "Let Him Run Wild" was something simple to fill out the album to a reasonable length when there wasn’t enough new material. It’s a nice little song, but worthy of a complete 1998 re-make? When it’s Brian Wilson doing the remake, definitely, yes! To hear what Wilson does with a whole new palette of instruments and studio technology that weren’t available in 1964 gives you a whole new perspective on the song and on Brian Wilson.

So here you have inimitable harmonies, soaring at times, as good or better than any Beach Boys harmony you ever heard. You have great melodies. You have bouncy lyrics (for the most part). It all seems so perfect, so simple, yet so worthy of repeat listens. This music ought to be permeating America -- it is the essence of what people liked about the Beach Boys -- what America still likes about the Beach Boys. Why aren’t we hearing this music everywhere we go? Why isn’t "South American" a massive hit? Because my generation is too old and too busy to know what’s going on in the music world. Most of my generation doesn’t know who Brian Wilson is even though most of them could sing the chorus from a dozen or more of his hits.

Music lovers, especially those of you who like the sound of the Beach Boys but who are looking for something new and better, don’t overlook Imagination. The music is very special indeed. It is also a once-in-a-decade chance to hear new work from Brian Wilson. That’s right, it has been 10 years since the last Brian Wilson solo effort (self-titled and also excellent). In those 10 years he sang on the Van Dyke Parks’ Orange Crate Art (also recommended) and released a 30-minute TV documentary soundtrack, I Wasn’t Made For These Times, that reworked compositions from the ‘60s and ‘80s. That’s the sum total of all Brian Wilson output since 1988. This album is a national treasure, but almost nobody knows it and that is a shame. The music here gets and deserves my highest recommendation.