At My Piano
I can just imagine so many reviews missing the point, chuckling off at the redundancy of an instrumental set of Beach Boys songs, arguing that the sun-kissed classics need those vocal harmonies to really come alive.
Brian Wilson’s genius – and sure the word is near redundant, but it’s also required in any discussion of Wilson/Beach Boys – was founded on his love of Gershwin and Mozart and melodies. Sure there’s the great harmony in his playing and in the songs and in the sound he heard in his mono head (thanks a lot dad!) But the songs have such indelible, enduring melodies. And Brian, at his core and in his heart is an accompanist, a song provider, a supper-club piano noodler supplying the material.
Here in what amounts to A Musical Autobiography – he doesn’t just strip the songs back to their instrumental bones, he gives you his very all. He provides a skeleton for his soul. A framework. This is his essence. Presented here in a set of “after demos”.
It’s also as close to the schmaltz of 70s dross (think the Young and The Restless theme – which I bloody fucking love! – as much as you might think Pet Sounds) and therefore he’s finally made the album that Murry might have been most proud of; that Murry would have thought he too could have made, and/or maybe inspired. But this isn’t The Many Moods of Brian Wilson – this is actually The Mood of Wilson: Song Genius.
To hear 15 of his best – Beach Boys classics and the solo Love and Mercy – with Brian at the keys, and conjuring the sandbox of course, is to hear the ‘classical music’ of the 1960s; is to hear the classical music Brian made based on his listening. His little teenage symphonies to god, his Phil Spector and Beatles amalgams that were shaped by his hand, his ear (the one good one), his heart and soul, that were as much inspired by Gershwin and Mozart as by surfing and girls. Here you’ll hear that whatever Mike Love brought to the table, whatever Carl and the rest of the boys did too, was of course important, but that it was always Brian.
You’ll read elsewhere that At My Piano is not important, is mere folly, is lovely once, is a mild distraction from the real business, is just okay…
But I’ve been listening to it non-stop. My heart weeps. My soul tingles. This music hits me hard – though in the softest delivery, in the kindest, gentlest way. But there’s that baggage that accompanies it, that first ushered it into the world – some of the most joyous and infectious of pop music created under difficult circumstances and ushered into the world via trauma and mental illness. It’s impossible not to know that and feel that as you listen. These towers of song made with bucket and spade.