Last Tuesday saw the release of Brian Wilson’s “In The Key Of Disney,” a cover album of classic Disney tunes such as “Bare Necessities” from the film “The Jungle Book” and “Colors of the Wind” from “Pocahontas.”
What’s disappointing for fans of Wilson, the former creative mastermind behind seminal 20th-century rock act the Beach Boys, is that the disc represents a shallow commercial effort from a talent who once placed artistic integrity above all else.
While Wilson’s bouts with isolation, social anxiety and mental illness stemming from the enormous success of the Beach Boys have long been chronicled in stories about his band’s past, it’s a wonder why the seemingly reclusive talent would come back after a three-year break following his last album of new material – “That Lucky Old Sun” – with an album of soulless covers.
Wilson has long been an artist who puts creativity at a premium, and while working with Disney would surely offer various artistic opportunities, this seems like an album that could easily go unnoticed amongst the litter of Disney-branded merchandise available at its theme parks.
What doesn’t work about the album starts with the opening cover of “You’ve Got A Friend in Me” from “Toy Story.” Instead of lending his usual airy voice to the track, Wilson chooses to go the route of the aping original singer, Randy Newman. Suffice to say, Newman did it better, but Wilson has a vocal palette that extends beyond Newman’s offbeat vocals and it’s a mystery why he didn’t try to expand on what Newman had already laid out for him.
From “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” things only become progressively worse for Wilson – though, fortunately for listeners, there are a few bright spots along the 11-song trek to the album’s end. “Baby Mine,” a tune from a key emotional moment in the classic Disney film “Dumbo,” sounds like a forgotten gem of Wilson’s past, along with its backup vocalists that sound akin to his former Beach Boys.
Another passable track, Wilson’s cover of the “Pinocchio” ballad “When You Wish Upon a Star,” crackles with Wilson’s trademark crisp vocals but succumbs to an arrangement of instruments and generic sound-supporting vocalists that may have just been session musicians: clearly uninterested in providing the material with any liveliness.
Then there’s “Stay Awake,” which, much like the title suggests, will leave listeners wanting to click the replay function on their iPods. The “Mary Poppins” tune is a charming lullaby and really meshes well with Wilson’s penchant for sonic experimentation and wall of sound effects.
Unfortunately, “Stay Awake” is followed by a medley of “Heigh-Ho,” “Whistle While You Work” from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” and “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme park ride. This sort of combination should encourage frugal listeners to select the previously mentioned worthwhile tracks off of iTunes and Amazon, instead of purchasing the entire album.
The album ends on a somewhat high note with “When You Wish Upon A Star,” but it’ll certainly leave die-hard Beach Boys and Brian Wilson fans sharing some of the artist’s feelings of isolation. For Wilson, this is a surprisingly commercial venture, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when each tune sounds as if it could blare from a “Pinocchio” float that’s touring a Disney park and nobody would know it was one of rock’s most beloved icons, there is a problem.
The album is never clear as to whether it’s pandering to children with its playful tracks, but it’s easy to believe the intent was to reach aging Disney fans with a love for the more obscure relics in the studio’s song library.
Ultimately, “In The Key Of Disney” is a product of the corporation and not an album from Brian Wilson. Perhaps Wilson was under certain constraints to deliver something a little more middlebrow than his 2010 cover album of compositions by George Gershwin, which Walt Disney Records agreed to let him make if he eventually made “In The Key of Disney,” according to billboard.com This would explain why “In The Key Of Disney” is a middling and mostly forgettable affair.