Brian Wilson may be retiring from music for good this year.
It is altogether strange for us at Rare Candy to cover Wilson or his music. He recorded two dozen Top 40 hits with the Beach Boys, picking up multiple Grammys along the way. Pet Sounds and SMiLE are some of the most critically acclaimed records of all time.
And yet, in an incredibly sad twist of fate, his latest LP No Pier Pressure has fallen into coverable range for this publication. It did not chart in the United States or receive much radio play; its best public performance came in at number ninety-eight on the Australian ARIA. The official Vevo releases for the audio of Pier Pressure’s tracks have only a couple thousand plays apiece. Critical reception of the record as a whole has been mixed or unfavorable.
Aptly-named closing ballad “The Last Song” is one of Wilson’s best pieces, either solo or with the Beach Boys. Like much the rest of the album, it too has come as largely a disappointment: Llana Del Rey, rumored to appear on the song, allegedly backed out at the last minute.
“The Last Song”’s melody is one of Wilson’s finest, heartwrenching and immediate. The arrangement is breathtaking. Its preciousness and sentimentality, which will also lead many to knee-jerkingly write off the track, is wholly appropriate — necessary even — and thus becomes its greatest strength. Wilson has always been genuine in his music and in interviews, one who seems like he wouldn’t or couldn’t understand the virtue of tongue-in-cheek irony or eye rolls if you tried to explain it to him. From the beginning, he’s been upfront and transparent in his aims: to create something beautiful and lasting. (It’s for these reasons, among others, Daniel Johnston is so commonly compared to him). But this sincerity often has little place in contemporary, post-modern curation of “the cool,” and his music has fallen somewhat out of fashion by disillusioned generation after generation, seen as an adolescent cousin to a more grown-up Beatles. Wilson seems to be increasingly realizing this out-of-placeness, and it may be what is in part predicating his retirement. He sings in “The Last Song”: “there was a time and place for what we had” before the wistful “If there was just another chance for me to sing to you.”
One of the favorite stories among Brian fans is of the first time he heard Phil Spector’s “Be My Baby”; he recounts in his autobiography and in video interviews that when it came onto the radio, he immediately pulled over in the car and proclaimed it the finest song ever written. His music-making ever since has been a quest to create an emotional and artistic equal to the track. Most fans, I think, would argue he succeeded long ago.