Rock & Roll Books
Inside the Music of Brian Wilson: The Songs, Sounds, and Influences of the Beach Boys' Founding Genius
by Philip Lambert
Continuum, 404 pp., $26.95 (paper)
Unless you can swim laps around music theory, this is not the best Beach Boys book to bring to the pool this summer. Eschewing familiar biographical territory, Baruch College music professor Philip Lambert takes us under the hood of Brian Wilson's music in order to reconstruct the evolving compositional framework that transported Wilson from "Pom Pom Play Girl" to Pet Sounds. Although Wilson was influenced by a wide spectrum of contemporary Top 40 music from his youth, Lambert pays particular attention to the Four Freshmen, demonstrating how Wilson looked to them for thematic elements as well as harmonies. For the novice, Lambert's ability to ferret out hints of musical sophistication in earlier, less heralded Beach Boys tracks and solo Wilson productions for Jan & Dean and the Honeys may occasion critical reappraisal. Lambert's elaboration on the compositional similarities between Smile and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is also insightful. Unfortunately, too much of the book reads like transcribed lecture notes. Lambert's fealty for Wilson's music is never in doubt, but his narrative bogs down in a turgidity that belies its subject matter's majestic lightness. Take a cue from the protagonist of "Fun, Fun, Fun" and ditch the library for the hamburger stand.