A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Inside the Music of Brian Wilson

Sorry it's been so quiet around here. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

In the meantime, a few of you might be interested in our recently published book Inside the Music of Brian Wilson, by Philip Lambert. It's already been reviewed in the LA Times, the London Times, Mojo, Popmatters, and the New York Post - with most of the reviews saying the same thing: while it's not exactly a beach read (cheers!), it does contain an extraordinary amount of information and musicological insight. If you're looking for a bright and breezy biography, look elsewhere, but if you're in the mood for tackling an in-depth study of one man's musical odyssey, you might love this book. Here's an extract from Quentin Rowan's review in Sunday's New York Post:


Using charts, graphs, listings of chord patterns and radio hits from 1952 to 1961, the author leaves nothing to the imagination in his attempt to document exactly what was passing through young Wilson's ears and how he capitalized on what he heard.

Lambert himself is a professor of music theory, and at times, although enlightening, his prose borders on being for music scholars alone. Even explaining how Wilson changed from the pudgy kid who stayed up late listening to R&B on Mike Love's transistor radio to the guy who recorded albums called "Party!" and "Summer Days (and Summer Nights)" in a striped shirt with a surfboard under his arm proved difficult.

This is, of course, the perennial problem of many biographies. No matter how close we get, we just can't see inside the artist's head. This seems even more pronounced in Brian Wilson's case because he's so often spoken about in an odd reverence. The G-word is frequently used, which is odd in relation to songs so commercial in style and content.

Then, of course, came "Pet Sounds." Wilson's masterpiece is its own compound of pop, classical, jazz, folk, and film score. It's often hard to tell what instruments are being played at any one time - the vocal might be accompanied by a French horn, an accordion, a clarinet, flute or oboe; percussion might take the form of chimes, kettle drums, finger cymbals, a bicycle bell, or a plastic Coke bottle.

But as Lambert makes brilliantly clear, despite the high level of experimentation, there isn't anything on "Pet Sounds" that sounds like it's been left to chance - each cluster of music seems designed to convey a distinct emotional nuance. It's hard to think of another record that has that anatomized feeling with such intricacy and precision. And it's hard to think of another book about Brian Wilson that's anatomized his music to such relentless depths.