The problem with being an iconic pop legend is that, no matter what you do, it can never quite live up to the triumphs of yesteryear. One approach to this situation might be to take a whole new approach, to strike out into the unknown and reinvent oneself in new genres and styles. That is not what Brian Wilson has done on "That Lucky Old Sun."
That Lucky Old Sun, Beasley Smith's original 1949 tune recorded by Ray Charles, forms the epicentre of the album as a central theme which is reprised several times. Beginning with Morning Beat and ending with Going Home it is a celebration of a day in Wilson's resident Southern California, each track running together to form a sort of cohesive symphony. Four narrative breaks further add to a sense of story and musical theatre, even if Wilson's delivery of Van Dyke Parks words is often stilted, particularly when attempting overly familiar and less than proficient Spanish. You could call "That Lucky Old Sun" a concept album were it not for the pretentious connotations that come with the term. Make no mistake, this is a pop album – highly thought out, painstakingly arranged, but a pop album nonetheless.
There's a huge level of nostalgia here, and uber-fans of the Beach Boys may appreciate moments of resemblance to early work as well as direct references including Forever She'll be My Surfer Girl, dedicated to his wife, yet still a clear unwillingness to let go of the Surfer Girl from the days of "Pet Sounds". Oxygen to the Brain and Midnight's Another Day present more regretful and insightful reminiscences. In that context, there's something mildly creepy about the accuracy with which "That Lucky Old Band" replicate Beach Boys style vocal harmonies.
The necessity for an inferior recreation of Wilson's hey day is less than clear, and "That Lucky Old Sun" is plagued by more than a few moments of triteness, but when country rock meets music hall horns and flutes on the romanticised vision of California Role and Going Home merges classic rock and roll with hints of synth pop and blues harmonica, Wilson's genius still shines, as it does in the beauty of his arrangements, making for some very likeable if not quite mesmerizing music.