RATING: 4 / 5 stars
By Chris Moore:
Released on the eve of SMiLE, Gettin’ In Over My Head is a testament to Brian Wilson’s talent and motivation as a singer/songwriter. Entire books (see: Wouldn’t It Be Nice: Brian Wilson and the Making of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds by Charles L. Granata) have been written about how Wilson changed the landscape of the singer/songwriter’s rock/pop album, both in how artists create and in how the audience listens. It is refreshing and inspiring to see that such an artist is not only reworking unfinished projects from the past, but also creating new music that stands independently from his past hits.
The first track, “How Could We Still Be Dancin’,” is a great start for this album. Brian Wilson may be an aged rock star whose prime was arguably in the mid-1960s, but his flair for an upbeat song—a song which one might dance to—is unsurpassed. He invites Elton John along for the ride, and delivers a great album starter. This is followed up by “Soul Searchin’,” a song that carries with it many implications. The lead is shared by Brian and his brother Carl, who passed away in 1998. Brian was able to take Carl’s original vocal—cut in the mid-90s for a possible Beach Boys project—and feature it on a new track cut by Brian and his band. For Beach Boys’ fans, this is a treat in and of itself. That it is an emotional song and perhaps one of the best on the album is a wonderful bonus. The third and fourth tracks are notable for their sound. The fourth (and title) track is especially notable, when considering the evolution of Brian Wilson’s sound. There are certainly intimations of Pet Sounds throughout the album, in the choice of instrumentation and the themes of love and, specifically, the overlap between new and old love.
This is not to say that Wilson is simply tapping into and mimicking a previously established sound, albeit his own. On the contrary, he delivers songs like “City Blues” (an upbeat track laced with a typically, and appropriately, bluesy electric solo by Eric Clapton) and “A Friend Like You” (an admittedly cheesy, yet sincere collaboration with Paul McCartney)—these are new songs. Still, Wilson good-naturedly returns to the music of his youth with “Desert Drive,” a song that could have stepped off of an album like Little Deuce Coupe. Wilson wrote three of the songs on the album by himself, of which “Don’t Let Her Know She’s An Angel” is probably the most brilliant. He sings, “I don’t know why she completes me…I’m not even sure what love means / Don’t let her know she’s an angel.” Even in his sixties, Wilson still remembers how it feels to be in love and yet not know how to define it, how to define it logically. It’s a beautiful little tune, complete with a well-orchestrated backing track and impeccable harmonies—Wilson’s trademarks.
What cannot be understated here is the fact that Wilson wrote or co-wrote each and every one of the thirteen songs on this album. He has earned the right to host guests like John, Clapton, and McCartney to a degree that an artist like Santana has not. Wilson cannot be accused of relying on the names of his co-stars. He has arranged an original album that stands on its own. It builds upon the surf music and Pet Sounds styles of his past without relying on them. He even closes the album with “The Waltz,” a song he co-wrote with Van Dyke Parks. A song of high school cotillions, angora sweaters, fandangos, Topanga, Tarzana, and a love that “can make this old world tremble,” this final collaboration is an apt nod to Wilson’s next release, the long-awaited SMiLE. This album stands on its own, a validation of Wilson’s continuing career as a singer/songwriter.