"At 25, I turned out the light/'Cause I couldn't handle the glare in my tired eyes." Those lines in "Goin' Home" bluntly refer to Brian Wilson's famous mental shutdown in 1967, during the sessions for the aborted Beach Boys album Smile. But that bridge is sung by a pitch-perfect choir in a radiant, white-funk song that, like the rest of this record, evokes the healing feeling of the Beach Boys' great Smile-recovery LPs, 1967's Wild Honey and 1968's Friends. A series of compact tunes and spoken reveries written by Wilson with Scott Bennett and original Smile lyricist Van Dyke Parks, That Lucky Old Sun is blatantly nostalgic in its pre-acid California dreaming (the title cover was a 1949 hit for Frankie Laine) and echoes of Wilson's early less-troubled bloom: the surf-side doo-wop of "Good Kind of Love," the deep saxes and vibraphone in "Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl." His voice is drowsy and uneven in the narratives, but he sings with a reborn will, even when the truth hurts. "I wasted a lot of years," Wilson admits in "Oxygen to the Brain" but insists, as the circus horns come in, "I'm filling up my lungs again and breathing life." That Lucky Old Sun lacks the magnificent shock of SMiLE, Wilson's 2004 completion of that '67 album. But it has a natural, hopeful flow that leaves you warm all over.
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