"I had this dream, singing with my brothers / In harmony, supporting each other," Brian Wilson sings on "Southern California," the closing track of That Lucky Old Sun. The distance between that dream and how it worked out haunts the album, but listeners will have to dig beneath the surface to find it. Much in the mold of Smile, Wilson's 2004 completion of an abandoned Beach Boys album, That Lucky Old Sun arrives drenched in the harmonies and instrumental inventiveness that have been Wilson's trademarks for decades. Working with Smile collaborator Van Dyke Parks and bandmate Scott Bennett, Wilson also strives to recapture Smile's thematic unity in the service of paying tribute to Southern California's past, present, and future.
It's an ambitious piece of musical landscape art done in a style Wilson both invented and defined. It's also not an entirely successful effort—too often, it sounds like an ersatz but almost relentlessly peppy Smile. For every lovely bit of dreaminess like "Midnight's Another Day," there's a skippable chugger like "Goin' Home," and even more skippable spoken-word tracks. Still, Wilson's music has long been as much about the cracks as the beautiful surfaces, and his personality is apparent on every heartfelt note of Lucky Old Sun. The album pays wistful, hopeful tribute to the place he's long called home, and in spite of hard years and losses, now wants to enjoy for a while.