*** Brian Wilson, "Imagination," Giant. On "Your Imagination," the pure pop gem that opens this master singer-songwriter's first official solo album since 1988's "Brian Wilson," the Beach Boys' architect sings: "I miss the way I used to call the shots around here." But initially it almost sounds as if he is calling the shots again, from those wonderful Phil Spector-isms on the opening track through "She Says That She Needs Me," which stands alongside his sweetest ballads, and "South American," a collaboration with Jimmy Buffett that certainly tops the Beach Boys' similar hit single, "Kokomo," recorded without Wilson.
Unfortunately, this thread is broken mid-album with nice-but-needless remakes of two mid-'60s Beach Boys cuts and, worse, several soulless tunes that reach a low on the pseudo-jazzy "Cry" and that some fans are blaming on Joe Thomas, Wilson's latest co-producer and co-writer, whose credits include Peter Cetera and the Beach Boys' misguided 1996 "country" tribute project.
"Happy Days," the autobiographical closer, is a bizarro pop rebound, though. Wilson's vocals are extraordinary throughout, and as Bob Dylan said after working with the "mad genius" on 1991's superior, unreleased but much-bootlegged "Sweet Insanity" LP, Wilson can still write melodies to beat the band. Fans anticipating a "Time Out of Mind"-type comeback, however, will have to wait.
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