What I Really Want For Christmas

Brian Wilson

Arista, 2005


REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


How does one go about recording a follow-up to the re-recording and release of the greatest unreleased album of all time?

That is the question that faced Brian Wilson in 2005, a year after the release of his magnum opus SMiLE. Truth be told, there was no feasible way Wilson could deliver a follow-up record that would be of the same quality; the expectations would have been of Star Wars: Episode I proportions.

So Wilson set about doing what every artist should be doing; recording the music they want to make. For Wilson, this culminated in the release of What I Really Want For Christmasmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 .

SMiLE must have reawakened the creative spirit of the man, because What I Really Want is Wilson’s best solo album save for its predecessor. The harmonies sparkle, the production is incredibly detailed and full and Wilson himself sounds incredibly engaged in the material.

When it comes to Wilson records, the harmonies are what make the whole thing work. This album is no different. What you have here is a group of people who are dedicated to Wilson and his craft and have bought into his genius. The Beach Boys they are not, but you’d he hard pressed to find better harmonies on a pop/rock record these days.

To pick the best such moments is a gargantuan task, there are just so many. For starters, “O Holy Night” just blows away the pedestrian Christmas music you hear on the radio with its power and emotion. In my Best Of list last year, this song ranked as one of the best, and I stand by that; the vocals are some of my favorite ever. “Hark The Herald Angels Sing,” and “ The First Noel” are just beautiful too.

Generally speaking, the arrangements of these songs remain traditional, with a few deviations along the way. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” spots a bossa nova-type beat that’s definitely unique. The ending to “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” is the most Beach-Boys sounding moment on the record, next to the re-recording of “Little Saint Nick.”

The two new songs “What I Really Want For Christmas” and “Christmasey” are actually decent songs; they may not become holiday standards but they are more than just throw-away tracks. The former was penned by Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin and really captures a Pet Sounds vibe in its production: the pluck of a harp, the soaring vocals and other “different” instrumentation.

As far as Christmas albums, it would be hard to do better than What I Really Want For Christmas. It takes the spirit of the holidays and blends it with the wonderful pop craftsmanship of Brian Wilson into an album that stands above most of Wilson’s solo achievements.

Rating: A-

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© 2006 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Arista, and is used for informational purposes only.