Album Reviews

Brian Wilson – In the Key of Disney

on October 27, 2011, 8:00am
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“This could be great,” I thought as I prepared for Brian Wilson‘s new album of songs from Disney movie musicals. After all, this is Brian Freaking Wilson! He partially inspired the Beatles to create Revolver, and Bob Dylan said his ear should be donated to the Smithsonian. He gave us Pet Sounds, ”Good Vibrations”, and then after a 30-year wait, the masterpiece SMiLE. He released a pretty damn good album of Gershwin tunes, of all things. Let him record Disney songs! As Pitchfork put it, “Are you going to tell Brian Wilson not to do that?”

Yes, I am. It pains me to say it, but… Brother Brian, what have you done?

When an artist puts out a kids album, one tends to think, “Why is this happening now?” Usually it’s because they have young kids, plus legions of parents are delighted to listen to their favorite artist instead of Barney or Raffi. So, Brian, why now? Your core fans are recent grandparents. Is your heart really in it on this record?

It doesn’t feel like it is. Wilson’s voice sounds flat and uninterested on “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”, a song that, in the hands of Elton John, has tremendous power. Wilson likewise sounds tired on the normally triumphant chorus of ”Colors of the Wind”. More importantly, his forte has never been vocals. He’s the troubled and brilliant auteur in the studio, arranging and composing.

In the Key of Disney has a few shining moments, mostly in the transformations of these hackneyed pop styles, where you remember just how great Brian Wilson is when given the space to shine. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” gets a Bo Diddley-esque shuffle, and both Toy Story songs sound much better with Wilson’s uptempo treatments than Randy Newman’s homely crooning. “You’ve Got a Friend” has a bright, bluesy, Stax-lite feel, while “We Belong Together” comes off like a classic 50s rock tune, complete with Jerry Lee Lewis piano drumming. The best track on here by a long shot is “Kiss the Girl”; Wilson turns it into an early 60s Beach Boys ballad, accompanying the song’s signature “sha-la-la”s with new chords, really making it pop.

Mostly, the album suffers from just too much of the patronizing, saccharine Disney vibe and not enough echt Wilson. Too many silly noises, whistles, and bells (don’t even touch “Heigh-Ho/Whistle While You Work”), too many campy instrument choices (marimba and banjo on The Jungle Book‘s “Bare Necessities”), and too many Beach Boys harmonies thrown into otherwise pedestrian arrangements. Wilson mailed it in on this one. This can be his mulligan. He’s certainly earned one. After all, he’s Brian Wilson, a genius under the right circumstances. But not these circumstances.

Essential Tracks: “Kiss the Girl”, “You’ve Got a Friend”, and “We Belong Together”

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7 comments

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Timothy N. Thomas
July 29, 2012 at 6:31 pm

you are an idiot, I just listened to this music and was floored, I have not enjoyed brians voice for a long time- since rio grand- he sounds great on this. His vocals never being his forte? wow, how dumb. listen to surfer girl, listen to don’t worry baby, listen to fifty other songs he sang on from 1961 to 1971,……….sorry i called you an idiot, you are just behaveing like and idiot, you might be a wonderful person but damn you got under my skin,,,,,,,,,,the recording is wonderful.
Timothy N. Thomas author of ‘Galsboro- a butler’s letter to the New Yorker’

Freezyu
January 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Sounding tired on the chorus of “Colors Of The Wind”…..I don’t think so at all. Everyone’s got their own vibes with music, but I think it’s the best song on the album! I play bass guitar & have been trying to learn this version by ear, so I hear it 20-30 times in a row as I slowly find the notes on the bass & the one thing I never would’ve thought was he sounds tired on the chorus. I think this album is the perfect one to follow up the Gershwin album. Pure magic!!

Lo Tide
October 29, 2011 at 11:33 am

Interesting review and interesting direction for Brian.

Peterlscot
October 27, 2011 at 8:22 pm

“More importantly, his forte has never been vocals.” Did the reviewer actually say this or are my eyes going?

Jake
October 30, 2011 at 7:16 pm

the best Beach Boys vocals aren’t Brian’s, they’re Mike Love’s or Carl Wilson’s. just my opinion.

timothy n thomas
July 29, 2012 at 6:33 pm

are you serious…..listen to surfer girl, listen to don’t worry baby….get real, brian sings lead on those two classics.

Anonymous
October 27, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Hey check out an interesting take on Brian Wilson’s new album by an editor of Culture Catch, Mr. Holtje at: http://culturecatch.com/music/october-review-roundup

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