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FORGET THE CLICHED IMAGE of Brian Wilson as mad, tortured genius: if there is one character flaw that has blighted his music over the past 25-odd years, it has been his capacity to be easily led, his need to work with others resulting in a touching but misplaced faith in a host of lesser musical talents who frequently aren't fit to wipe his arse, let alone collaborate with him.

You can cite Mike Love and his horridly cynical Beach Boys cabaret revivalism, as well as former therapist Eugene Landy's attempts to launch himself as a musical Svengali on Brian's patchy last album of new songs, '88's 'Brian Wilson'. Whenever a wise link-up is in the offing - like the excellent demos he recorded with producer Andy Paley in the mid-'90s, or a briefly mooted Beach Boys project with High Llama Sean O'Hagan - it is invariably kiboshed by the reactionary forces of tastelessness that surround him.

Hence 'Imagination', which sees Wilson in fine (often multi-tracked) voice and with a handful of truly lovely tunes, polished into submission by his current best buddy, Joe Thomas, at a home studio in St Charles, Illinois. Thomas is the founder of River North Records, home to such giants of shit as Alan Parsons and former Chicago singer Peter Cetera. His avowed intention here is to help update Wilson's music with what are laughably termed "'90s production values". Essentially this means twinkly synth washes and big clattery syndrums that even LA's most emotive poodle rockers laughed off around the turn of the decade.

A big-hearted and memorable tune like the opening 'Your Imagination' is harmonious enough to survive this saccharine botch job and 'She Says That She Needs Me' moves with grace and poise. But when the feckless likes of Jimmy Buffett and Jim Pesterik (author of Survivor's 'Eye Of The Tiger', no less) are roped in to put Wilson's feelings of strength and happiness out of adversity into lyrics, there's no doubt Brian has once again fallen in with a bad crowd. Two early Beach Boys numbers, 'Keep An Eye On Summer' and 'Let Him Run Wild', are unflatteringly made over and Thomas has the audacity in the press release to compare the closing 'Happy Days' to Wilson's brilliant, aborted 'Smile' album.

"I miss the way that I used to call the shots around here", Brian Wilson sings on the wonderful 'Your Imagination'. This man is, still, one of the greatest creative geniuses of the 20th century. He deserves better.


John Mulvey

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