It seems like just yesterday my parents and I were at The Beach Boys’ 50th Anniversary Concert and I was listening to the group’s excellent comeback album, That’s Why God Made The Radio. But that was 2012 — time seems to fly even faster than they say it does. But now Brian Wilson is back to being a solo artist, somewhat reluctantly, having claimed that Mike Love fired him, Al Jardine and David Marks following the 50th Reunion Tour. To that end, more recently, I caught Wilson, along with Jardine and Marks, on tour with co-headliner Jeff Beck. It was the second time I saw Wilson solo and he was fantastic, as always. The fact of the matter is that Wilson is a genius and living legend whether he’s in The Beach Boys anymore or not. On his new solo album, No Pier Pressure, he collaborates with several contemporary artists in addition to Jardine, Marks and former member of The Beach Boys Blondie Chaplin. And the result is, in a word, magnificent, arguably Wilson’s best solo album from the past 15 or some odd years. Even better than The Beach Boys’ last album.
No Pier Pressure opens with “This Beautiful Day,” which sounds like it could’ve been on a ’60’s album by The Beach Boys. “Life goes on and on / Like your favorite song,” Wilson sings during the piano-led ballad which features some gorgeous harmonizing and clocks in at 1:25, serving as a wonderful little intro to the album. It’s followed by “Runaway Dancer” featuring Sebu, a euphoria-inducing dance pop gem. You might think dance pop is too much of a stretch for Wilson, but somehow his vocals soar above the punchy beats perfectly. Besides, the song features a hefty portion of shimmering horns and sunshiny synth , making the track feel almost as nostalgic as it does new. “Running, running / Run away / Run away dancer,” Wilson sings during the infectious chorus. The lyrics may be slightly cheesy, but Wilson delivers the vocals in such an uplifting, casual manner that they totally work. If a modern pop rock band used these lyrics they’d probably be called silly but Wilson’s speciality is meshing those sort of lyrics with magically complex melodies and harmonizing. Here, there’s not a whole lot of harmonizing, unless you count the backing vocals on the chorus, but the melody is vintage Wilson.
It’s appropriate that this album is called No Pier Pressure because it finds Wilson working with multiple other guests in addition to his fellow ex-members of The Beach Boys. “On The Island” features She & Him, otherwise known as Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, whose sound has been heavily influenced by The Beach Boys. Like most of the album it was written by Wilson and J. Cole, but She & Him fans would surely love the track, which features Zooey on lead vocals during the verses. It’s a very easy-breezy, light-hearted song that will probably have some comparing it to “Kokomo.” Although, just for the record, Brian Wilson actually had nothing to do with “Kokomo.” He didn’t write it or even sing on it, except for during a live version. So, let’s not blame Brian for that atrocity — the above-mentioned Mike Love co-wrote that one with a few other guys.
Another highlight is “Guess You Had To Be There” with Kacey Musgraves, who did co-write the song with Wilson and J. Thomas and A. Salgado. If you ever wondered what a country song would sound like with Brian Wilson-style harmonies then listen to this one and then you’ll know. And, you know what, it’s not a bad thing at all. As with “On The Island,” Wilson mostly sings the chorus here, Musgraves singing lead during the verses of the song, which tells a country-style story.
I also have to mention “Saturday Night,” which finds .fun’s Nate Ruess doing a fine job on lead vocals. Ruess co-wrote the catchy little number along with Wilson and J. Thomas and it’s my personal favorite song on hand, making me hope Wilson collaborates with Ruess again in the future. And that’s the beauty of all of these collaborations — they leave you hoping that Wilson will collaborate with each of these artists again in the future. Brian Wilson & Friends, anyone?