One Track Mind: Brian Wilson, "Midnight's Another Day" (2008)

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Lodged toward the end of a nostalgic song cycle that attempts (with varying degrees of success) to recreate the soaring pop music of his California youth, Brian Wilson offers a moment of naked, welcome honesty.

On “Midnight’s Another Day,” away from the florid orchestrations and dense backing vocals associated with his lost superstar creation the Beach Boys, Wilson admits: “All these people make me feel so alone.”

Finally, it seemed, Wilson had found time on his new album “The Lucky Old Sun” to address four decades spent largely estranged from his own surfer-dude boy band, a period no doubt made more difficult since it was coupled with a debilitating bout with mental illness.

His 1988 comeback featured these nearly claustrophobic songs actually co-credited to his psychiatrist. But, while completing the long-delayed Beach Boys-era project “Smile” in 2004, Wilson at long last regained his foothold on feel-good popcraft, a sturdy piece of ground he’d largely conquered by the mid-1960s.

Unfortunately, Wilson doesn’t advance that notion over the balance of “The Lucky Old Sun” (released earlier this month), so much as confirm that “Smile” was his own personal vista.

“Sun” is, really, a grand-sounding yet somehow empty album — from the staid “Forever She’ll Be My Surfer Girl” to the outdated linking narratives by “Smile” co-writer Van Dyke Parks.

Still, “Midnight’s Another Day,” with its gospel-tinged piano signature, can’t be denied. It’s a direct link between “In My Room” and the modern-day Wilson. This rare moment of somberness, not to mention lasting imagery — light follows the deepest darkness — mirrors the depth of emotion which grounded his former group’s best work.

It’s clear, then, that Wilson can still produce an enjoyable confection — and we can’t help but pull for Wilson, one of the wandering geniuses of American pop music. Yet, the dull reverie of his subject matter too often forces us to recognize that the Beach Boys’ triumphs “Pet Sounds” and “Smile” — both of which in turn pushed the Beatles toward their own creative zenith — have forever receded into the collective rearview mirror.

Wilson rarely allows himself to address what matters to him today, outside of “Midnight’s Another Day.” He seems, quite frankly, too caught up in yesterday.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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