Bootleg City: Brian Wilson Triple Play

One, two, three curiosities from the Wilson vaults

Bootleg City: Brian Wilson Triple Play
El City de los Bootlegs

Hello again, fine citizens of Bootleg City! Spring is in the air, taxes have been paid, and Mayor Matt Wardlaw has once again seen fit to bestow upon us a fine bounty of officially unreleased musical magic — this time, it's a three-pack of bootlegs drawn from the deep vaults of the one and only Brian Wilson.

As all self-respecting rock fans know, the erstwhile Beach Boys leader had a pretty rough go of it between the late '60s and... well, either the late '90s or from the late '60s on, depending on who you talk to and your point of view. For many decades, Wilson existed in a mysterious, semi-reclusive state, reemerging periodically to announce a new album; this news would be greeted by cries of BRIAN'S BACK, followed by the project in question either being shelved or eventually released to a generally lukewarm reception.

Between the '70s and mid-to-late '90s, Wilson fans were arguably most excited to hear three records that turned out to be vaporware: Adult/Child, a Beach Boys project that was mostly tracked in 1977; Sweet Insanity, the intended follow-up to his 1988 solo debut, which was rejected by his label; and a series of later '90s cuts that were later collected and titled Landylocked. The latter seemed most likely to be a sort of holy grail and/or proof of Wilson's enduring genius, given that at least some of the songs came from the period when he was signed to Don Was' short-lived Karombolage imprint and working with Andy Paley.

The truth of the matter is that while all of these "albums" are at least interesting here and there for various reasons, and they all contain flashes of greatness (or at least goodness), it really isn't hard to hear why they ended up being stuffed in a vault. Sweet Insanity, like 1988's Brian Wilson, bears the heavy imprint of Eugene Landy's clumsy creative influence (if you haven't yet heard the horror of "Smart Girls," boy are you in for a "treat"); Landylocked, meanwhile, is just sort of tepid for long stretches. Both of those projects were cannibalized to a degree to fill out the track listing of Wilson's Gettin' in Over My Head album, which is so bad that I've blocked almost all of it from my memory — only a single painful line, about urging his lady friend to wear her seatbelt while he takes her for a drive, stubbornly lingers.

If you know much about Wilson's life, then you don't need me to tell you why Adult/Child is mostly a mess. If not, well, prepare to hear the Beach Boys perform "Shortnin' Bread."

I'm sure it seems like I'm taking a big dump on these recordings, and I sort of am. But it's also really interesting to hear one of the rock era's most incredible talents taking unabashedly big swings in pursuit of his muse, and the listening experience is rendered all the more poignant when you consider the dark circumstances surrounding these songs. Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that if you go in with sensible expectations, there's some genuine value here — as I was saying to a friend just the other day, I think a lot of Beach Boys-influenced artists spend too much time focusing on the harmonies and the sunny songs about surfer girls, and not enough time trying to capture the bruised heart and essential fragility that truly made their music special. During this period, Brian was all heart, and often almost broken; that cracked state could make a lot of his music uncomfortable, but it also allowed a lot of beauty to come pouring out in a remarkably un-self-conscious way.

Well, that's enough of my yapping. Track listings and download link below. Enjoy, and all hail Mayor Matt Wardlaw!