Album Review : Carl Wilson – Carl Wilson (1981)

“I could be in heaven for all I know.”


Rating : 5/10

Gee, I’ve gone a bit obscure with this one, haven’t I? I feel like there’s need for a few background words, so that’s what I’ll begin with. Carl Wilson is the youngest of the 3 Wilsons that, together with Al Jardine and Mike Love, formed the american band called The Beach Boys. If you look a bit in the past of this fellow, let’s say – about 10 years, you’ll find out that he’s a pretty talented song-writer in his own right. Things like ‘Long Promised Road’, ‘Feel Flows’ and ‘Trader’ used to be highlights on their original albums and showed that after all, The Beach Boys were an ambitious, willing-to-try-new-things band for a number of years. That is, of course, before they turned into a bunch of middle-aged nostalgic, but in a forced and inadequate way, oldies band looking to regain their past success. From then on, Carl Wilson’s song-writing talent had fewer and fewer chances to shine and develop, until the poor guy gave it all up and lost himself to drugs and alcohol for a couple of years. Fortunately, by 1979 he got sober and started contributing again to his band. His songs were nowhere near as interesting and ambitious, but, when evaluated to the late 70’s/early 80’s Beach Boys standards, they are actually closer to being good that bad. Indeed, the band was a mess by the time, both musically and personally, and Carl’s decision, that of doing a solo album, definitely seemed like a good idea. What went wrong, though?

Well, for one, times have changed. People complain about not hearing songs in the vein of ‘Feel Flows’ here, but they’ve gotta understand one thing : this is the beginning of the 80’s. Carl could simply not resurrect 70’s progressive rock without looking dated and being considered a dinosaur who can’t let go of the past. So he tried to give his album a more contemporary sound. Take the up-beat songs for example. They don’t rock any more, they rather sound like a poor man’s dance numbers. Generic, boring, not-interesting, all featuring those loud beats (the drums are actually real drums, thank god, but that doesn’t help things one bit), quiet guitar lines in the background (why on earth is the riff from ‘The Right Lane’ so buried in the mix?) and repetitive, unimaginative choruses. And they drag on and on and on. Five indistinguishable songs (all of side 1 plus ‘The Grammy’, which by the way, has an absolutely terrible subject matter) that simply don’t have any redeeming quality. What’s even worse, they’re not even good pop-dance songs. As much as it is not my kind of music, I’ll admit that artists like Madonna can actually write a catchy tune within the genre. Carl could not, and the fact that he decided to try is exactly why this album is bad.

“If it’s that bad, why did you give it a pass mark?”, you’ll confusedly ask. There are two ballads there that, as generic as they may be, at least sound a bit more adequate. Carl may be unconvincing as a rocker, but only when singing a ballad you get to truly appreciate that smooth, soothing, angelic voice of his. Take ‘Heaven’ for example, the only song here that even dares to approach the “highlight” title. Carl’s falsetto is at such a perfect register, neither too high to get pungent, nor too low to leave you wishing for more. It may be a bit overlong, but hey, I’m trying to be positive here! And ‘Hurry Love’ actually does help my case. Try ignoring the oh-so-cliché-filled syrupy lyrics (I’d suggest Mrs. Myrna Smith to stick to backing vocals) and concentrating on the catchy, finely delivered chorus and you’ll see that it’s not exactly worthless. ‘Seems So Long Ago’, the album’s closer, unfortunately is. I tried to like it, so that my “Carl-should-stick-to-ballads” argument could get more credibility, but every time I listen to it, it generates nothing more than a big yawn. Its main target is creating a nostalgic mood, but it’s far too sloppy, draggy and dull to create any kind of emotional resonance at all. I mean, with such an under-written chorus, how could it?

In the end, I guess the “he could do so much better” thought sums it all up. I could see a song or two approached by The Beach Boys and turned into something better, but otherwise, there are not many reasons for getting this album. Dennis’ and Brian’s solo careers are where it’s at.


Categories: Album Reviews


2 replies

  1. Oh dear, doesn’t sound too good. I was quite interested in hearing more solo Beach Boys records after listening to the very, very good Pacific Ocean Blue by Dennis. Maybe I should give this one a miss though.


    • ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ is indeed a stunning effort and easily the best solo record by any Beach Boy. Brian’s solo career has its ups and downs but it’s mostly good (I hold ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ in quite high regard and ‘Smile’ is ….well, ‘Smile’). Carl’s albums unfortunately are very disappointing. But still, I’d suggest you to at least give a listen to ‘Heaven’ (if you haven’t already).

      Thanks for the comment.


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