Nostalgia was always central to the Beach Boys. Even in the sixties, their songs about surfing, driving fast cars, and hanging out with pretty girls sounded like tales from a bygone era, a fleeting California dreamland. On That Lucky Old Sun, Brian Wilson’s return to Capitol Records—the Boys’ original label—that fondness for the past remains, but it’s clear Wilson has at long last come to terms with the imperfections of both his home and his own talents. A series of tracks about “the heartbeat in L.A.” punctuated by short spoken-word narratives (written by longtime Wilson pal Van Dyke Parks), the record can easily be divided in two: sunny, hypermelodic tunes like “Forever She’ll Be My Surfer Girl” that border on sounding unnatural for a man of Wilson’s age, and a much more intriguing second half with pared-down arrangements, mostly just Wilson’s now-weary tenor with piano, telling tales of what came after the California dreamin’. “All these voices, all these memories, made me feel like stone,” he sings, voice cracking with anger, on the record’s standout track, “Midnight’s Another Day,” a piano ballad perhaps referencing Wilson’s famed bout with depression. And there’s an almost overpowering wistfulness in Wilson’s admitted favorite on the album, “Southern California.” “I had this dream / singing with my brothers / in harmony, supporting each other,” he sings, first alone, then gradually bolstered by the rising chorus of his much younger backup singers. “The wind chimed, laughter rhymed / We had nothing but time.”
That Lucky Old Sun.